Following a macro philosophy of disease, traditional Chinese diagnostics are based on overall observation of human symptoms rather than micro level laboratory tests. There are four types of TCM diagnostic methods: observe (望 wàng), hear and smell (é—»/聞 wén), ask about background (é—®/問 wèn) and touching (切 qiè). The pulse-reading component of the touching examination is so important that Chinese patients may refer to going to the doctor as Going to have my pulse felt.

Traditional Chinese medicine is considered to require considerable diagnostic skill. A training period of years or decades is said to be necessary for TCM practitioners to understand the full complexity of symptoms and dynamic balances. According to one Chinese saying, A good (TCM) doctor is also qualified to be a good prime minister in a country. Modern practitioners in China often use a traditional system in combination with Western methods.


  • Palpation of the patient's radial artery pulse (pulse diagnosis) in six positions
  • Observations of patient's tongue, voice, hair, face, posture, gait, eyes, ears, vein on index finger of small children
  • Palpation of the patient's body (especially the abdomen, chest, back, and lumbar areas) for tenderness or comparison of relative warmth or coolness of different parts of the body
  • Observation of the patient's various odors
  • Asking the patient about the effects of their problem.
  • Anything else that can be observed without instruments and without harming the patient
  • Asking detailed questions about their family, living environment, personal habits, food diet, emotions, menstrual cycle for women, child bearing history, sleep, exercise, and anything that may give insight into the balance or imbalance of an individual.