Difference Between Eastern and Western Medicine:
An objective comparison of Eastern and Western approaches to medicine is necessary to further evaluate the validity of Oriental medical techniques such as acupuncture. The development of medicine in Western nations follows the way of hypothetical deduction and the Eastern approach uses the inductive method. The Western approach clearly divides the health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state. The Western approach tends to change the environment and the Eastern way is to prefer to adapt to the environment. There are numerous difficulties in comparing these two approaches. The same terminology may apply to entirely different facts, the teaching and learning methods are quite different, and the evaluation of the treatment is almost not comparable.
In order to help understand the Eastern approach better, an understanding is needed of the basic Chinese concepts: the concept of a small universe living in a large universe; the duality concept of yin and yang; the concept of anatomy; the concept of physiology in Chinese medicine—the state of equilibrium expressed by the five elements; the concept of pathophysiology expressed by the external and internal insults; the concept of maintaining and promoting health expressed by the circulation of chi and hsieh; the therapeutic concept in Chinese medicine—the normalization or reestablishment of balance of the body function; the concept of preventive medicine.
The Western approach to medicine clearly divides health from disease, and the main emphasis is on the individual body. The environment is considered as only one factor that affects the body. Responsibility for various phases of health
and disease care is shared by professionals in several disciplines. The Eastern idea of health and disease is looked upon as the two sides of a coin. In other
words, every individual person is in a state of balance between external insults and internal defensive mechanisms. If the insults are greater than
one’s defenses, one is ill; if not, one maintains good health. Since the individual person is considered merely a microcosm existing in a macrocosm, there are changes every minute, with constant readjustments. The duty of a physician is
to strengthen the internal defensive power and power of adaptation of each individual person and enable him to fight the environmental insults,
or to adapt to external changes so that he can live in peaceful balance within himself and with his environment, thereby maintaining good health.
The responsibility of a physician is, in fact, to promote health and treat diseases when they occur.
In the Eastern approach, the learning process begins with the universe. The laws of nature find a parallel in bodily phenomena; the Eastern medical student must, therefore, learn astronomy and geography: "If in curing the sick you do not
observe the records of heaven nor use the principle of earth, the result will be calamity."5 "if you understand the period above; the writing of
heaven (astronomy) below; the principles of earth (geography) and in between earth and heaven; the affair of man, then may you live a long life."6 The system of the body is classified in a way quite different from that of Western medicine. The Western approach looks into every aspect of a person with great detail, from a microscopic to a macroscopic view of biology, embryology, histology and microbiology, studies the cellular level of chemistry and physics, then looks to the
basic anatomy and physiology, and finally moves to the clinical practical aspects of internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry and public health
For instance, the body is divided into 12 anatomical, physiological and psychological units. The causes of disease are divided into six environmental
insults and seven internal insults. All the diseases are represented by symptom groups or syndromes. This approach may appear oversimplified in matter. In addition, the much smaller volume of written statements and literature, the writing
mostly in the form of inductive recording, may appear easier to learn and largely philosophical in approach. However, this leads to the necessity for more clinical observations and practice and longer periods of individual teaching on a one-to one basis. Even with all the differences, Western trained physicians can clearly see that the Eastern approach emphasizes knowledge in terms of environmental health, surface anatomy, functional physiology, neurophysiology and the psychosomatic aspects of medicine, although different terms are being used. After learning the differences, students may be able to make a fair judgment of the validity of either the Eastern or Western approach to medicine and take advantage of knowing both.