Studies on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), like those of other systems of traditional medicine (TM), are very variable in their quality, content and focus, resulting in issues around their acceptability to the global scientific community. In an attempt to address these issues, an European Union funded FP7 consortium, composed of both Chinese and European scientists and named "Good practice in traditional Chinese medicine" (GP-TCM), has devised a series of guidelines and technical notes to facilitate good practice in collecting, assessing and publishing TCM literature as well as highlighting the scope of information that should be in future publications on TMs. This paper summarises these guidelines, together with what has been learned through GP-TCM collaborations, focusing on some common problems and proposing solutions. The recommendations also provide a template for the evaluation of other types of traditional medicine such as Ayurveda, Kampo and Unani.
GP-TCM provided a means by which experts in different areas relating to TCM were able to collaborate in forming a literature review good practice panel which operated through e-mail exchanges, teleconferences and focused discussions at annual meetings. The panel involved coordinators and representatives of each GP-TCM work package (WP) with the latter managing the testing and refining of such guidelines within the context of their respective WPs and providing feedback.
A Good Practice Handbook for Scientific Publications on TCM was drafted during the three years of the consortium, showing the value of such networks. A "deliverable - central questions - labour division" model had been established to guide the literature evaluation studies of each WP. The model investigated various scoring systems and their ability to provide consistent and reliable semi-quantitative assessments of the literature, notably in respect of the botanical ingredients involved and the scientific quality of the work described. This resulted in the compilation of (i) a robust scoring system and (ii) a set of minimum standards for publishing in the herbal medicines field, based on an analysis of the main problems identified in published TCM literature.
Good quality, peer-reviewed literature is crucial in maintaining the integrity and the reputation of the herbal scientific community and promoting good research in TCM. These guidelines provide a clear starting point for this important endeavour. They also provide a platform for adaptation, as appropriate, to other systems of traditional medicine.