Latent tree analysis for the identification and differentiation of evidence-based Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnostic patterns: A primer for clinicians

Leonard Ho, Nevin L. Zhang, Yulong Xu, Fai Fai Ho, Irene XY Wu, Shuijiao Chen, Xiaowei Liu, Wing Fai Yeung, Justin CY Wu, Vincent CH Chung

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: A supplementary chapter on the diagnostic patterns of Traditional Medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), was introduced into the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). However, evidence-based rules are yet to be developed for pattern differentiation in patients with specific conventional medicine diagnoses. Without such standardised rules, the level of diagnostic agreement amongst practitioners is unsatisfactory. This may reduce the reliability of practice and the generalisability of clinical research. Purpose: Using cross-sectional study data from patients with functional dyspepsia, we reviewed and illustrated a quantitative approach that combines TCM expertise and computer algorithmic capacity, namely latent tree analysis (LTA), to establish score-based pattern differentiation rules. Review of methods: LTA consists of six major steps: (i) the development of a TCM clinical feature questionnaire; (ii) statistical pattern discovery; (iii) statistical pattern interpretation; (iv) TCM diagnostic pattern identification; (v) TCM diagnostic pattern quantification; and (vi) TCM diagnostic pattern differentiation. Step (i) involves the development of a comprehensive questionnaire covering all essential TCM clinical features of the disease of interest via a systematic review. Step (ii) to (iv) required input from TCM experts, with the algorithmic capacity provided by Lantern, a dedicated software for TCM LTA. Motivational example to illustrate the methods: LTA is used to quantify the diagnostic importance of various clinical features in each TCM diagnostic pattern in terms of mutual information and cumulative information coverage. LTA is also capable of deriving score-based differentiation rules for each TCM diagnostic pattern, with each clinical feature being provided with a numerical score for its presence. Subsequently, a summative threshold is generated to allow pattern differentiation. If the total score of a patient exceeded the threshold, the patient was diagnosed with that particular TCM diagnostic pattern. Conclusions: LTA is a quantitative approach to improving the inter-rater reliability of TCM diagnosis and addressing the current lack of objectivity in the ICD-11. Future research should focus on how diagnostic information should be coupled with effectiveness evidence derived from network meta-analysis. This will enable the development of an implementable diagnostics-to-treatment scheme for further evaluation. If successful, this scheme will transform TCM practice in an evidence-based manner, while preserving the validity of the model.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154392
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Chinese traditional
  • Cluster analysis
  • Dyspepsia
  • Latent tree analysis
  • Medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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