IBM Tongue Bytes


A strange email arrived in my Inbox recently asking me for a picture of my tongue, assuring me “lifetime benefits.” First I wondered how this email escaped my Spam filter. But then I wanted to explore.

Here’s the email {you likely will have received it too}:

Dear distinguished guest,

How are you recently? Is everything ok? I am Sasha from Traditional Chinese Medicine center (short for TCM), the assistant of Dr.Huang, it’s my honor to contact you via this email.

I hope our TCM center have left nice memories for you.

It’s our responsibility to give our remote concern to you since you are guests of our group.

First of all, congratulations on your winning in our recent program specific for regular visitors to our website. Your winning prize is: Free life membership of our service platform for public health!

TCM public health service center is a platform which mainly functions in two aspects. Firstly, it offers online learning and medical exchange services about traditional Chinese medicine (abbr. for TCM). We have meticulously designed courses of the best parts of TCM culture like natural therapy, which include acupuncture, Taichi, qigong, Chinese herbal tea, nutritional therapy, cupping, tuina/massage, traditional Chinese medicines, and reflexology, etc.

Secondly, one of our services is to give you a health evaluation for free, you just need to fill in a form and send us a tongue coating picture, and then our TCM experts will have a complete evaluation based on the information filled in the form and the conditions of the tongue coating. After that our experts will give you suggestions and advice on how to treat and prevent diseases.

The public health platform is consisted of hundreds of volunteer doctors who have rich clinical practice and experience. So long as you register as a member for free, you’ll be able to enjoy excellent health service from our experts.

Besides, TCM public health platform can bring you a lifetime benefits, as TCM doctors will make free TCM health plan for you on the current situation.

Our TCM center strive to develop Traditional Chinese Medicine, and I would like to attach the service platform website:

Please feel free to contact me if there is anything I can do for you.




The reference to “Traditional Chinese Medicine” got my attention as I have a longstanding interest in understanding the differences, and similarities, between Eastern and Western medicine. As I explored various elements of “Dr. Huang’s” email, I learned that IBM – yes, IBM – has developed an information system for healthcare in China that includes a (as one example):

record {of} a patient’s tongue color in Chinese as “the sea and the sky merged into one,”

IBM’s interest is understandable:

It plans to work with China to provide hospitals with platforms for collaboration and information sharing designed at the company’s new healthcare product lab in Beijing. Among the applications being worked on at the lab are those that display electronic health records shared between hospitals, allow virtual conferences between doctors and interpret terms used in traditional Chinese medicine for digital classification.

China this year announced plans to spend 850 billion yuan (US5 billion) to achieve universal healthcare. While the government has not made clear how much of that sum is for IT spending, the package still creates major opportunity for healthcare products, said Matt Wang, IBM vice president in charge of the company’s China Development Labs.

“The market is one of the biggest,” Wang said. “This is much bigger than telecoms or even banking.”

So why did they request a picture of my tongue?

The surface of the tongue is believed to contain a map of the entire body, and is used to determine acupuncture points to manipulate. For example, teeth marks on one part of the tongue might indicate a problem with the heart, while teeth marks on another part of the tongue might indicate a problem with the liver. {Giovanni Maciocia (June 1995). Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine (Revised ed.). Eastland Press.}

What do you think? Do such methods improve health outcomes, or are any benefits more psychological rather than physical?


  1. #1 Keçiören Nakliyat
    May 8, 2011

    Where are we really going?
    I cant predict how would life be tomorrow.
    IBM is driving the computer technology crazy.

  2. #2 IanW
    May 9, 2011

    “What do you think? Do such methods improve health outcomes, or are any benefits more psychological rather than physical?”

    I think you should punt this to Orac. He’ll set these woo-meisters straight.

  3. #3 K.M.
    May 9, 2011

    A large part of this type of medicine may truly be psychological, however there could be some medical benefit. Just a few days ago this was a topic on Dr.Oz. One of the guest doctors made a point of saying he has a problem with Eastern medicine because there is no tangible research to prove these medical benefits. Therefore, he does not believe that this type of medicine should not be the sole source of treatment.

    I am inclined to agree with him on the aspect that it should not be the sole source of treatment. There are many conditions that exist where it does not seem plausible that a treatments such as acupuncture and meditation would be the best treatments. I do believe that Eastern medicine is good for the overall well-being of a person and does have significant benefits from the perspective of relaxation.

  4. #4 A
    May 16, 2011

    Did you send in your tongue photo?–
    I’d guess that if you do, and fill out their form, they will, at best, send you back information that your tongue shows evidence for some potentially serious condition, and a further evaluation is needed, which – unfortunately – requires some small payment. (We accept VISA MC Paypal).
    And then you can order the secret herbal medicine which cures this condition. (It is a business model: If one in 10,000 recipients eventually sends in, say $100, and you send out 1 million emails, you got 100 orders totaling $10,000.- enough to pay someone for answering the e-mails, sending out meds for only 100 orders).
    I remember from the times of the Cultural Revolution the performance of a serious surgery, with only Acupuncture for sedation/pain relief, much advertised to show superiority of Chinese “people’s” medicine. 20 years later, one the surgeons admitted to having thoroughly drugged the patient before the surgery, but having been under political pressure to perform this show surgery.–
    I’d think that at best the traditional medicines work as placebos, like homeopathy. As many lesser ailments cure themselves, nobody recognizes their inefficiency (unless there’s a study from NIH-NCCAM).

New comments have been disabled.