"Western medicine" is a term sometimes used to describe evidence-based medicine, which, for various historical reasons, emerged from "Western" civilization (i.e. countries originally populated by or settled by Europeans), though it is now practiced throughout the world.
The term is most commonly used by promoters of "Eastern" medicine or therapies, such as acupuncture or Reiki, or of other forms of alternative medicine. It may be substituted for other phrases such as "conventional medicine" or "mainstream medicine" by promoters of Western forms of alternative medicine, such as homeopathy. You're most likely to encounter these terms in the context of explaining how Western medicine only focuses on symptoms and not the causes of illness, or some other such hogwash.
Not inaccurate, but wrong
Although the phrase "Western medicine" is not actually inaccurate as such, since the theory and practice of empirical medicine developed most prominently in Western countries, it can be misleading since it tends to imply that evidence-based medicine belongs to Western culture, in the same way that traditional Chinese medicine belongs to Chinese culture, for example, and that it's therefore no more valid than any other system of diagnosis and treatment.
Both suggestions are false. The defining feature of what is termed "Western medicine" is its efforts to base itself on the scientific method and on knowledge and techniques supported by rigorous scientific research. Hence it is rooted in empiricism rather than culture, although of course there is variation throughout the world's cultures regarding attitudes to empiricism and alternative worldviews such as religious or spiritual ones.
One of the oddities of calling it "Western" medicine is that not all of it originates in "the West". Vaccines, in full irony, originated from Chinese variolation. Making the claim 'all of "Western Medicine" is wrong' means by definition, many non-Western sources of medicine must also be at least partially wrong.
As a dismissal tactic
One holistic website bashes humorism and bloodletting as being barbaric, unscientific, "Western", and akin to allopathy, and simultaneously praises traditional Chinese medicine and its (also unscientific) system of qi, meridians, and yin and yang. This is, of course, nonsensical, since bloodletting is still used in traditional Chinese medicine. Bloodletting went out of fashion as a panacea only thanks to the invention of the science-based "Western" medicine the site so vehemently attacks. Bloodletting via leeching is actually still used in a few specific conditions in Western medicine where it has been found to be effective based on evidence (e.g., removal of blood from reconstructed body parts).
Supporters of "Eastern" theories (including "Eastern" medicine) may claim that things such as Yin Yang, traditional medicine, and astrology are such an ingrained and important part of these cultures that it is racist to criticize them.
Of course, this is ridiculous, since many of these concepts (astrology and herbalism, for instance) also exist in Western cultures. European culture is fundamentally influenced by Christianity and Greco-Roman mythology, which appear virtually everywhere in European literature, and there are many words and expressions deriving not only from them, but also from astrology and the theory of the four humors (jovial, sanguine, star-crossed, stigma, iconoclast etc.) – but it would be nonsensical to say that not believing in one of these systems makes one "anti-European."
In addition, using the term "Western" to denigrate science is as absurd as criticizing spacecraft designs for being based on "Western physics." As one doctor and politician once put it, "There is no divide between Western physics and chemistry and Oriental physics and chemistry." Science is international, as the writer Rafael Barrett noted:
“”But what is a national science? A lie. Have you ever heard of French chemistry or German astronomy? Technology and astronomy belong to all of us; they were created by mankind and for unity. Science that isn't united is not science.
Eastern traditional medicine is criticized not because it is from Asia, but because it is almost always unproven, like traditional medicine everywhere. (Actual racism would be stating that Western herbalism is superior to Eastern herbalism.) Skeptics oppose unproven medicine wherever it is practiced, whether it be in Asia or Europe, and such pro-science views exist worldwide; for instance, there are many Asian critics of "Eastern" medicine. They distinguish between practices that are backed by evidence, and those that are not — categories existing in both the West and East. Those who use the term "Western" as a snarl word, on the other hand, explicitly frame the issue in terms of geography. They will rail against the evil that is "Western" medicine, the West's "mechanistic", "excessively rational" mindset, and the West in general, while simultaneously asserting the superiority of the East's "intuitive", "holistic" mentality. (Just imagine someone saying that "the irrational, intuitive Eastern worldview" is incapable of comprehending "Western" science because of its "superior, rational" nature. The racism is evident when the argument is flipped.) One side frames the discussion in terms of evidence and lack of evidence, while the other explicitly focuses on place of origin and inferiority or superiority of culture. Which one is really racist?
- Move over, Deepak, there’s a new woo-meister at HuffPo, Orac. Discusses the idea of "Western" versus "Eastern" minds promoted by Ervin Laszlo.
- It wasn't always this way in the West, however. The scientific method took a long time to take hold in the medical community. As late as 1860, bloodletting was still being practiced as a means to combat inflammation.
- A History of Medical Horrors, The Natural Recovery Plan.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine, The Natural Recovery Plan.
- "The Medicine Cabinet: Korean Medicine Under Dispute", Eun Jeong Ma, East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal, Volume 4, Number 3, 2010, pp. 367-382.
- "Science-Based Medicine in South Korea", The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter, Volume 14 No. 8, September 2015.
- South Korean Skeptics Work to Promote Science-Based Medicine
- Jackie Chan Combats Traditional Chinese Medicine