Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been a recognised profession in Hong Kong since the late 1990s. According to data from the Census and Statistics Department in 2012, about 11% of the survey participants consulted a Chinese medicine practitioner over the previous month.

In recent years, much progress is observed in acupuncture (amongst the various branches in TCM) – specifically in terms of acceptance, demand and supply. Based on Department of Health’s data in 2011, there are more than 1,800 active registered Chinese medicine practitioners in the city, of which 213 of them are primarily practising acupuncture.

Acupuncture has also made it to the global platform – with over 130 countries applying the treatment. It is also endorsed by the WHO for a variety of diseases, symptoms or conditions, including shoulder, back and knee pain, and adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy.

However, despite its growing popularity, some healthcare professionals remain skeptical with regards to its efficacy.

Perception towards TCM remains divided

A survey conducted in 2008 tried to investigate the perception of nurses in Hong Kong towards TCM in general. Surprisingly, 40% of the registered nurses considered TCM ‘unscientific’. In addition, over half of the surveyed population commented TCM is less effective than biomedicine in the treatment of acute diseases.

The age-old healing practice of acupuncture dates back to over 8000 years. Needles are inserted into specific ‘meridians’ or ‘points’around the body to restore the ‘energy imbalance’.

“In TCM, cancer is not seen as a disease; rather, an imbalance within the body that needs to be addressed,” said Grace Yu, a registered TCM practitioner at Balance Health in Central. “The aim of TCM is not to cure disease but to rebalance the body, so that it can focus on healing itself.”

This holistic approach was also endorsed by the majority of nurses in the survey. This is also the reason why patients are more inclined to visit Chinese medicine practitioner when they suffer from minor illnesses, like coughs and colds.

Laser acupuncture – measuring electrodermal activity at the skin surface

However, an assessment by an acupuncturist is seemingly subjective and difficult to visualise. “I have no objection to cancer patients using TCM if they feel that it will help them. But, it really depends on what the treatment entails and what evidence exists to support its safety and efficacy claims,” said Dr Victor Chan-Chee Hsue, a clinical oncologist at Cancer Care Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Acupuncturists believe there are invisible rivers of energy, or namely ‘qi’, that flows around our body. Matthew Scott, an acupuncturist in Hong Kong, plans to visualise this flow and alter people’s perception towards acupuncture with the introduction of a laser acupuncture technology, coupled with the AcuGraph Meridian Test, a software which he claimed can digitalise your ‘qi’.

The technology uses low energy lasers to manipulate the flow of ‘qi’. This information is then fed into the AcuGraph machine, where color-coded bars are shown to indicate the level of energy. The prototype of the system was developed in the 1950s when Dr Yoshio Nakatani from Japan discovered patients with various diseases displayed different levels of electrical conductivity.

“A lot of people think that’s weird and it can’t be explained properly to them. They see the technology and the chart and that the imbalances can be tied to their health, and immediately they get that,” remarked Scott. MIMS

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