Jigmi Wangdi

On May 17, 2023, the first National Sorig Conference in Bhutan marked a significant step towards integrating traditional and modern healthcare practices. Aimed at improving holistic healthcare in the country, the conference featured prominent health experts.

Professor Dr (Colonel) Tashi Tenzin, a consultant general surgeon and neurosurgeon, emphasized the necessity of an integrated approach to healthcare. He advocated for collaboration between the National Traditional Medicine Hospital and modern hospitals that practice allopathic medicine.

 “Integration is crucial,” said Dr Tashi. “Currently, patients often take both traditional and modern medicines secretly, without informing their doctors, to avoid scrutiny. This lack of communication can lead to safety issues and ineffective treatment.”

A key issue highlighted by Dr Tashi was the absence of comprehensive data and research on the efficacy of Sowa Rigpa (Traditional Medicine).

He added that while a referral system between traditional and modern hospitals exists, it is underutilised and needs reinforcement. “We must strengthen this referral system to ensure patients receive the best possible care,” Dr Tashi Tenzin said.

Dr Tashi also highlighted the importance of conducting thorough research to determine the safety and efficacy of combining traditional and modern medicines. “We need to identify which traditional medicines are safe to use with modern treatments and understand which diseases can be treated more effectively through an integrated approach.”

The integration of traditional and modern healthcare has several potential advantages.

Patients stand to benefit the most, as diseases could be treated more effectively with a combined approach.

However, Dr Tashi shared that there are challenges, such as the uncertainty of medicine safety when used together, the lack of standard protocols, and the absence of regulatory control.

Dr Tashi proposed several initiatives to facilitate integration. These include clinical trials, collaborative research, and studies focused on safety and quality control.

“We need to establish formal channels for knowledge and skill exchange between the two systems,” Dr Tashi added, “Promoting collaborative research on selected herbal products and disease conditions, strengthening formal referral systems, and improving data management and joint scientific forums are essential steps.”

Dr Tashi shared that integrative medicine is a practice that focuses on the whole person, using all appropriate therapeutic approaches and healthcare professionals to achieve optimal health and healing.

“Integrative medicine cares for the whole human being; body, mind, spirit, and community, not just flesh, bones, and organs. This holistic approach is becoming a desirable and logical option for many people,” he stated.

The conference highlighted the potential of integrating traditional and modern healthcare systems, paving the way for improved health outcomes in Bhutan.