Analysis of interviews and focus groups with users of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and ethnic Chinese general practitioners (GPs) in Sydney, Australia, demonstrated the concept of treatment effectiveness held by users had four aspects: diagnosis, intervention, outcome and prevention of recurrence. Respondents assessed orthodox medicine and TCM utilizing all four aspects. Orthodox medicine was considered effective for diagnosis and valued for the speed of its intervention. However, respondents regretted its failure to use food in treatment. Orthodox medicine was considered best for symptom relief but TCM was considered to be better at dealing with root causes of illness and was consequently better at preventing illness recurring. Respondents saw prevention as illness specific contrasting with the lifestyle prevention espoused by orthodox medicine. Respondents criticized TCM in Australia because of the perceived low expertise of practitioners and poor herb quality. GPs valued accurate diagnosis and symptom relief but were less concerned about root causes of illness and did not see food as a treatment intervention. 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.