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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 1/2018

A qualitative study of culturally embedded factors in complementary and alternative medicine use

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2018
Szilvia Zörgő, György Purebl, Ágnes Zana



Within the intercultural milieu of medical pluralism, a nexus of worldviews espousing distinct explanatory models of illness, our research aims at exploring factors leading to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use with special attention to their cultural context.


The results are based on medical anthropological fieldwork (participant observation and in-depth interviews) spanning a period from January 2015 to May 2017 at four clinics of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Budapest, Hungary. Participant observation involved 105 patients (males N = 42); in-depth interviews were conducted with patients (N = 9) and practitioners (N = 9). The interviews were coded with Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis; all information was aggregated employing Atlas.ti software.


In order to avoid the dichotomization of “push and pull factors,” results obtained from the fieldwork and interviews were structured along milestones of the patient journey. These points of reference include orientation among sources of information, biomedical diagnosis, patient expectations and the physician-patient relationship, the biomedical treatment trajectory and reasons for non-adherence, philosophical congruence, and alternate routes of entry into the world of CAM. All discussed points which are a departure from the strictly western therapy, entail an underlying socio-cultural disposition and must be scrutinized in this context.


The influence of one’s culturally determined explanatory model is ubiquitous from the onset of the patient journey and exhibits a reciprocal relationship with subjective experience. Firsthand experience (or that of the Other) signifies the most reliable source of information in matters of illness and choice of therapy. Furthermore, the theme of (building and losing) trust is present throughout the patient journey, a determining factor in patient decision-making and dispositions toward both CAM and biomedicine.
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