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A Safe, Cost-Effective, and Affordable Model for the Cultivation of Health

“By using Western medicine to look at the trees and Chinese medicine to look at the forest, we have a much more comprehensive view of health.” Ka-Kit Hui, M.D., F.A.C.P.

In this Article:

I. Defining Health
II. The East-West Model of Care
III. Key Components of the East-West Framework:
  a. Harnessing biomedicine’s strengths
b. Reliance on traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of balance
c. Trust in the body’s innate ability to heal
d. A flexible and comprehensive approach for personalized care
e. Commitment to finding root causes behind symptoms and diseases
f. Commitment to treating the whole patient by addressing the local and the global
g. Active engagement in prevention and the cultivation of health
h. Safe, effective, and affordable care


Defining Health

Health is an integral component of one’s existence, but what is health? It is a term that is difficult to define and something that means varying things to different people. Yet, it often is an element valued most when it has been lost. Amidst the hectic rhythms of contemporary life, where the cultivation of health and wellness are often neglected, numerous repercussions appear at both the personal and societal levels.

In an effort to address the increasing cost and decreasing effectiveness of our current health care system, the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine (CEWM) has developed a unique, evidence-based health model that incorporates principles originating in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Western medicine, and applies them in a synergistic manner. Practitioners at the Center take a systems approach to address the needs of the whole person and to restore balance and well-being. The ultimate goal is to help the person achieve a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” which is the World Health Organization’s current definition of health.

The East-West Medicine Model of Care

“By using Western medicine to look at the trees and Chinese medicine to look at the forest, we have a much more comprehensive view of health.” Ka-Kit Hui, M.D., F.A.C.P.

At the CEWM Clinic we have achieved successful outcomes with a diverse patient population suffering from a wide variety of medical conditions. Integrative East-West medicine, as practiced at CEWM, operates within the biopsychosocial framework developed in the West, while also incorporating diagnostic approaches and therapeutic modalities originating from traditional Chinese medicine. Patients are evaluated by board-certified internists with varying levels of background in traditional Chinese medicine, and care is delivered by a team of dual-trained internists, nurse practitioners, acupuncturists, and health educators. Our clinicians design an individualized, low-tech, low-cost, and high-touch treatment plan for each patient that comprises a combination of lifestyle coaching, medication adjustments, and diet recommendations, as well as techniques such as acupuncture, trigger point injections therapeutic massage, and body-mind exercises.

Key Components of the East-West Framework

The comprehensive East-West health model combines the strengths of Western biomedicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), one of the oldest healthcare traditions in the world. At CEWM, clinicians who are dual-trained in Western medicine and TCM have developed the expertise to integrate both forms of care in their practice. The unique integrative East-West approach at CEWM is characterized by the following:

A harnessing of biomedicine’s strengths in disease detection, acute condition management, and vital system stabilization

The approach of Western biomedicine has proven its value in allowing scientists to break down complicated systems into manageable parts for analysis and comprehension. It is at its best in disease detection using advanced technologies, as well as in local and acute conditions management. It has also proven effective in stabilizing the body’s deteriorating system. CEWM practitioners draw upon these strengths in managing patients’ illnesses and monitoring their condition.

Reliance on traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of balance

Similar to the concept of homeostasis in Western medicine, one of the underpinning principles of traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of balance. In TCM, balance is important to consider both at the physiological level as well as in terms of lifestyle choices.  Continued stressors of different types will deplete the body’s reserve, leading to chronic imbalance and resulting in the disruption of the smooth flow of energy and blood in the body. Such stagnation often leads to muscle spasms, which hinders blood flow and results in inflammation. Complications from these symptoms result in further health consequences if not addressed at an early stage. For this reason, CEWM clinicians rely on TCM diagnostic approaches that access the body’s state of balance or imbalance early-on, and treat accordingly.

Trust in the body’s innate ability to heal

Biomedicine is indispensable when the illness becomes too overwhelming for the body.  When this happens, more invasive or potent interventions such as synthetic drugs, surgical procedures, or radiation are often called for. On the other hand, TCM, like many other forms of complementary and alternative modalities, embraces the body’s innate ability to heal, and utilizes therapeutic methods targeting at harnessing the body’s own chemicals and regulating the body’s own healing mechanisms. CEWM treatments and self-care recommendations are specifically designed to draw upon the body’s ability to heal, and our clinicians are trained to trust the body’s healing process more so than any specific medical technique.

A flexible and comprehensive approach for personalized care

Within the East-West health framework, practitioners at CEWM have developed a comprehensive approach that is flexible and can be adapted to each patient’s particular needs for that specific point in time. Our body is in a state of constant flux, and we prescribe individualized recommendations with the knowledge that as the body gradually makes improvements towards health, treatments must be modified according to the state of the person. Our clinicians place strong emphasis on therapeutic interventions that can naturally stimulate the body to repair itself. They utilize a combination of external stimulation of trigger and acupuncture points, along with lifestyle counseling and health coaching. Our teachings about self- care include the safe and effective use of dietary measures, supplements, over-the-counter medication, and body-mind exercises.

Commitment to finding the root causes behind the manifestation of symptoms and diseases

Before practitioners can help patients deal with their symptoms, they must identify and understand the root causes of their ailments. Unfortunately, biomedical approaches often miss these underlying conditions due to an emphasis on acute symptoms. Practitioners at CEWM thus begin by gathering a detailed history of their patients, including complete health histories with descriptions of their upbringing, experiences at all stages of life, work, exercise routine, and psychosocial, nutritional and other lifestyle factors. Inadequate coping strategies, chronic stress, and even remote traumatic experiences trauma are some of the common causes of underlying imbalance. In-depth knowledge about the whole person informs the diagnosis and helps the formulation of treatment strategies. This process requires time and, most importantly, a trusting relationship between provider and patient.

Commitment to treating the whole patient by addressing the local and the global

From the whole systems standpoint, each organ system in the body functions as a complex entity that interacts with all other systems in the body. The therapeutic interventions utilized at CEWM are based on the interconnectivity between all the systems in the body. In addition, stressors originating from the social and physical environment correlate directly with a person’s wellbeing. These factors range from family relationships and work pressures to pollution of air and weather changes. Treating the whole person at CEWM therefore means dealing with the individual as well as the person’s interaction with the environment.

Active engagement in prevention and the cultivation of health 

In the East-West model of care, the journey towards health requires the active participation of both the patient and the practitioner. While the practitioner’s role includes getting to know the patient and administering appropriate care to each individual, the patient must understand that prevention and cultivation of health remain a personal responsibility. As one ages, the body’s internal reserve slowly deteriorates, and its innate ability to heal itself gradually becomes compromised. Yet by embracing the elements necessary for the prevention of illnesses and incorporating components essential to successful living into one’s life, wellness can be achieved and maintained.

Safe, effective, and affordable care

With health as the foundation for all other activities in life, the rising cost of medical care, coupled with the declining wellbeing of the national population, has led to crisis at all societal levels. This means decreased quality of life for the individual, stress and tension in the family, and decreased productivity for the work force. In fact, many American personal bankruptcies have resulted from medical expenditures. By using less invasive treatment and lifestyle modifications, the integrative East-West model of care does not require highly advanced technologies or expensive procedures. Whether it is for those striving to regain control of health or for those hoping preserve their well-being, everyone can learn and benefit from this comprehensive East-West approach that is safe, effective, and affordable.

Ka-Kit Hui, MD, FACP
Wallis Annenberg Professor in Integrative East-West Medicine
Professor, Founder and Director
UCLA Center for East-West Medicine
Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine

By Shannon Wongvibulsin, BS Candidate, UCLA 2014
UCLA Center East-West Medicine, Staff Writer

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