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Exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong

Living in Hong Kong, you have access to a wide variety of doctors. From private clinics where some of the world’s top doctors practice, to public hospitals that are highly affordable for anyone with an HKID, western-style medical care is never far away. But, medical care in Hong Kong, as with many other facets of life here, is comprised of a blend of the east meets west. In the case of medical care, there is a wide variety of “eastern” style medicine available in the city. One of the most common types is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Because the lunar new year is just around the corner and nearly everyone in the city is focused on all things related to China and tradition, it feels like a good time to take a look at Traditional Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong.

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Is TCM a recognized form of medicine?

In short, the answer is yes. Many countries recognize TCM as a form of medicine that can have a positive impact on one’s health. In fact, western doctors will often use some practices in their care. This is especially true for physiotherapists and naturopaths.

Here in Hong Kong TCM is a governed industry. What we mean by this is that all practitioners of TCM in the city must be approved by the government and meet set standards as defined and governed by the Chinese Medicine Ordinance. According to the Chinese Medicine Division all practitioners, “must have completed an undergraduate degree course in Chinese medicine practice approved by the Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board of the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong.” On top of the degree, they are also required to pass a licensing exam.

Largely because of this governance, if you seek medical care or advice from a TCM specialist, there is a high chance that they are trained and capable in their field. As with many other forms of medicine, there are different practices that make up TCM. In this article, we take a brief look at the four most common types of TCM found in the city.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has long been a key component of Chinese medicine and involves inserting thin needles into the body in strategic locations based on different ailments or medical concerns being experienced by the patient.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (CHEE) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.”

Here in Hong Kong practitioners will often use acupuncture to alleviate symptoms including:

  • Vomiting caused by chemotherapy or postoperative recovery
  • Pain in the mouth and teeth
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Pain from labour
  • Lower back pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cramps

Interestingly, many physiotherapists will actually use acupuncture to help promote muscle recovery or pain relief.

Cupping therapy

As with other forms of TCM, Cupping is not a “new” practice, in fact, it has been around in some form or another since at least 1,550 BC where it was described in a medical text from Egypt. These days the practice has evolved into two major methods used by most practitioners:

  • Dry cupping – Placing cups (usually made from glass) onto the skin and heating them with a flame until a vacuum is created, pulling the skin up.
  • Wet cupping – Using the above method combined with controlled bleeding.

Regardless of which type you receive, you will usually be left with large red circles where the cups were placed. What type you get will be determined by the practitioner and your current symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms cupping is used to treat include:

  • Blood disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Eczema and acne
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Migraine
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Bronchial congestion caused by allergies and asthma

While Western medicine practitioners generally believe that cupping will not usually cure ailments by itself, it is often used in conjunction with other forms of TCM to alleviate symptoms or even promote healing.

Qigong

One of the main differences between TCM and Western medicine is that it doesn’t just focus on healing what ails you, but also on the mind and spirit. Qigong (Chee-Gong), meaning cultivating energy, is a perfect embodiment of this idea. According to the NQA, “Qigong practices can be classified as martial, medical, or spiritual.” and can be used for health maintenance, healing, and increasing vitality.

When practicing Qigong, you will notice that there are three key elements you focus on: Posture, breathing, and mental focus. Together each movement revolves around your Qi or life force, and can help bring a more holistic element to your healing.

In Hong Kong many people practice Qigong to achieve the following benefits:

  • Increased self-confidence
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved balance
  • Boosted immune system
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Reduced bone density loss ratio

Herbal Medicine

In Hong Kong, it can feel like there are almost as many herbal medicine stores as there are western style pharmacies. For many in the city, the herbal store is usually the first place to go when one is feeling sick, especially with a cold or similar maladies. Here in Hong Kong, these stores sell a wide variety of herbs for an equally wide variety of illnesses and are usually staffed by knowledgeable and accredited Chinese Herbal Medicine professionals.

Like western pharmaceuticals there are a wide variety of herbs used in treatment, some of which can be harmful to your health should you not follow instructions on how to use them properly. Because of this, the Hong Kong government has a licensing system in place with shops being required to apply for, and display, a license should they wish to sell certain types of herbs that are listed Chinese Medicine Ordinance as Schedule 1 or Schedule 2.

Schedule 1 herbs are highly toxic if not taken correctly and actually require a prescription from a licensed Chinese Medical practitioner to purchase. Schedule 2 herbs do not require a prescription but it is recommended that you consult with your physician or TCM practitioner before taking.  

Does health insurance cover TCM?

Due to its increasing popularity in the city, and indeed worldwide, many of the health insurance providers have started to implement insurance coverage benefits for traditional Chinese medicine in some plans. The key thing to be aware of here is that plans that do cover TCM may not cover all forms of TCM. For example, one plan will cover acupuncture and herbal medicine, but won’t cover visits to Qigong practitioners, while another plan may only cover acupuncture. Beyond that, plans often have a limit to the number of visits they will cover or the cost for each treatment. It would be beneficial to read the coverage documentation that came with your plan before you seek out any care from a Chinese medicine practitioner.

If you are looking for a new health insurance plan and will be visiting a TCM practitioner this year visit our plans page to learn more about our plans and book a meeting. With our health insurance experts here in Hong Kong. We can help you find a plan that meets your coverage needs.    

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