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October 2022

West J Med. 1992 May; 156(5): 507-11.

Use of traditional health practices by Southeast Asian refugees in a primary care clinic.

Buchwald D, Panwala S, Hooton TM.

Department of Medicine, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle 98104.

To determine the prevalence of use of traditional health practices among different ethnic groups of Southeast Asian refugees after their arrival in the United States, we conducted a convenience sample of 80 Cambodian, Lao, Mien, and ethnic Chinese patients (20 each) attending the University of Washington Refugee Clinic for a new or follow-up visit. Interpreters administered a questionnaire that dealt with demographics, medical complaints, traditional health practices, health beliefs, and attitudes toward Western practitioners. In all, 46 (58%) patients had used one or more traditional health practices, but the prevalence varied by ethnic group. Coining and massage were used by all groups except the Mien, whereas moxibustion and healing ceremonies were performed almost exclusively by the Mien. Traditional health practices were used for a variety of symptoms and, in 78% of reported uses, patients reported alleviation of symptoms. The use of traditional health practices is common among Southeast Asian refugees. Clinicians who care for this population should be aware of these practices because they may supersede treatments prescribed by physicians or leave cutaneous stigmata that may be confused with disease or physical abuse. Good patient care may necessitate the use or tolerance of both Western and traditional modalities in many Southeast Asian refugees.

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