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Swiss find Chinese medicine easier to swallow

Swiss patients are taking Chinese medicine lying down (TCM International) TCM International

The Swiss are increasingly resorting to ancient Chinese remedies to cure their back pain, asthma, allergies or other chronic disorders.

This branch of alternative medicine is now so well accepted that it is being introduced in some Swiss hospitals.

In some cases, for example in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) centres of the Hirslanden group, an interpreter is provided to help patients communicate with the doctor.

According to a statistical survey conducted in 2001 by the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, 58 per cent of the population would like a wider choice of types of alternative medicine.

In the search for new market opportunities, some hospitals have overcome the traditional mistrust shown by western medical schools and integrated Chinese medicine in their own structures.

One of those hospitals is the 24-hour clinic in Geneva.

“Compared to other types of alternative medicine, Chinese medicine has the advantage of being an ancient discipline that has already been tried on billions of individuals,” clinic administrator Jean Pierre Jubin told swissinfo.

“But what particularly convinced us was its practice.”

Patients are usually referred to practitioners of Chinese medicine by orthopaedic specialists. However, in view of the successful results achieved in other areas, it is now possible to treat many different types of conditions.

In German-speaking Switzerland, the Hirslanden group – which operates various medical centres and private clinics – is the leading provider of Chinese medicine, having opened eight centres that specialise in the field.

Trial consultation

To see for myself what happens during an initial visit, I arranged an appointment for a trial consultation at the TCM centre in Bern with Dr Bi Xuwei, an orthopaedic specialist.

Opened in collaboration with the International Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine, the TCM centres employ specialists selected directly by the Chinese Ministry of Health.

These doctors possess temporary permits that allow them to work in Switzerland from one to four years. The primary selection criterion is a minimum of ten years’ experience working in a university hospital in China.

Their secondment in Switzerland allows these doctors to travel and visit other European countries. And those who return home, having saved some of their earnings for a number of years, are able to finance the purchase of a house or secure a pension for their old age.

Chinese medicine is based on principles that differ from those of conventional western medicine. For example, the notion of vital energy, the “chi”, which flows through the meridians, a network of lines that link various organs.

This thousand-year old practice exerts a fascinating, almost magical, hold over westerners. This is confirmed by an episode recounted by Marie Louise Lagger, administration manager in the Bern TCM centre.

“The people who come here are open and already know about Chinese medicine. But we had one patient who refused to explain his problems to the doctor, because he believed that a Chinese doctor should be able to guess what he was suffering from without any knowledge of his symptoms!”


During my consultation, however, I discovered that the diagnosis was, in fact, based on an in-depth interview.

Most of the questions asked by Dr Bi – whether I still had an appetite, slept well and had a good digestion – were the same ones that a conventional doctor would have posed.

But with a few differences: Dr Bi asked me, through the interpreter, to place my arm on a cushion so that he could feel my pulse. He then told me, still through the interpreter, to stick my tongue out. From the colour and various other signs, he was able to establish whether a balance prevailed in my body between hot and cold.

Our three-way consultation continued. At times my replies to Dr Bi required lengthy explanations, and the interpreter was obviously doing her best to avoid any misunderstandings.

While Dr Bi was giving me a Tui-Na neck massage, I asked him whether, during the three years that he had been practising in Switzerland, he had observed an increased incidence of certain disorders compared to his own country.

“More cases of depression, more allergic conditions and weight problems in the elderly,” he replied. “In China on the other hand, obesity tends to be a problem of youth.”

In his own province in northern China, he said, it was very cold resulting in high levels of respiratory illness, alcohol abuse and excessive meat consumption, with a consequent increased rate of cardiovascular disease. Different countries, different illnesses…

swissinfo, Raffaella Rossello

According to the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, 58 per cent of the population would like a wider choice of types of alternative medicine.

The Hirslanden group operates eight TCM centres in Switzerland – in Bad Ragaz, Freihof Baden, Basel, Bern, Aarau, St Moritz, Zug and Zurich.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR