With demand for traditional Chinese medicine increasing fivefold over three years, the Hospital Authority has decided to enlist the help of its growing network of traditional medicine clinics to track the spread of infectious diseases. The authority's sentinel surveillance network for controlling infectious diseases will be extended to Chinese medicine clinics from next year. Practitioners of traditional medicine will use codes employed by western doctors for categorising diseases.Information from western clinics now helps track the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases, said Vivian Taam Wong Chi-woon, the Hospital Authority's director of strategy and planning. 'We hope to extend the sentinel surveillance network to Chinese medicine clinics so that we can detect any early outbreak of disease among outpatients at Chinese clinics,' said Dr Taam. 'This will be even more effective in monitoring the spread and changes of diseases.' However, Dr Taam noted that western and Chinese medicine use different terminologies and classifications for the same or similar illnesses. 'Chinese practitioners will have to learn the codes currently used in western medicine and how to input them into the database,' she said. To meet rising demand for Chinese medicine, the authority plans to add three to five more clinics in addition to the nine in service. More than 83,580 people visited the authority's Chinese clinics this year, five times as many as in 2003. Last year, 55 per cent of people seeking specialist treatment at conventional clinics and 41 per cent of people wanting general treatment at western clinics also sought medical help at Chinese clinics. Dr Taam said priority for setting up Chinese medicine clinics would be given to Sham Shui Po and Kowloon City, home to many elderly people. Applications would be tabled to the Legislative Council for approval next year. Dr Taam said the government hoped to establish 18 Chinese medicine clinics and let patients choose between traditional and western medical treatment.