Background: The introduction of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) services into health systems has been advocated by the World Health Organization, but there is a paucity of reviews synthesising the experiences of (i) implementing TCIM services in conventional healthcare settings and (ii) introducing evidence-based practice in TCIM. Knowledge of the first issue will assist policymakers to innovate implementation interventions in their own health system contexts. Addressing the second issue will facilitate the closure of the evidence-practice gap in TCIM and improve the translation of research evidence into health outcome benefits.
Purpose: The aim of this study was to identify, describe and analyse publications on these two key TCIM policy issues via an overview from an implementation science perspective.
Methods: Publications describing international experiences of implementing TCIM services or evidence for TCIM practices were identified by searching MEDLINE, EMBASE and Global Health databases in November 2021. The findings were summarised using a narrative synthesis approach.
Results: Sixty-three relevant publications were included in the analysis. Current experiences in China and the United Sates (US) reflect varying policy priorities at different stages of implementing TCIM services. In the US, where TCIM have yet to be introduced into mainstream healthcare settings, implementation interventions were designed to facilitate the provision of specific, evidence-based TCIM modalities via referrals from conventional clinicians. The application of these strategies at the health system, regulatory, financial, community, provider and patient levels provided a comprehensive picture of how TCIM implementation may be facilitated via multi-level interventions. In China, the major form of TCIM is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), for which service provision has already been adopted at all levels of healthcare. With the high volume of clinical research that has been generated in the past several decades, a key policy question at this stage is how to translate TCM-related clinical evidence into practice. The development of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) is the main implementation intervention, but adherence by TCM clinicians has been poor, due to the conflict between classical individualised practice and CPG standardisation. While tailoring interventions to facilitate CPG uptake is indicated, concurrent innovations in TCM clinical research methods would improve the compatibility between classical and CPG-based practice.
Conclusion: Policymakers managing different stages of TCIM implementation will benefit from the experiences of practitioners in the US and China. Multi-level implementation interventions launched in the US provide ideas for the initial introduction of TCIM into a conventional medicine-dominated health system. As TCIM service provision and related clinical research become more common, China's experience will inform how clinical evidence related to TCIM may be disseminated and implemented to improve service quality.