Chinese healthcare: a bargain with a bother

I went to Peking Union College Medical Center on Tuesday to have my ankle examined. I sprained it over the weekend and wanted to make sure I didn’t break anything.

The traffic outside the hospital was bumper to bumper, and most of the parking spaces for bikes and electric scooters were taken. It’s like this every day, said Liang, a nurse who met me at the entrance. Liang works for Vista Medical Center, which provides medical translation when my company’s foreign employees need to visit local hospitals. 

Peking Union College Medical Center was set up in 1921 by the Rockefeller Foundation. It’s regarded as one of the best in China, and is where the Communist Party leaders go for medical treatment.

The international wing’s orthopedic department was busy, so busy that the doctor didn’t have time to see me. Liang suggested we go to the emergency room instead.

“Won’t that be really expensive?” I asked. In the U.S.,  the average charge for an emergency room visit is $1,233, according to The Washington Post.

“A little more expensive, but not too much more,” she said.

Unlike the rest of the hospital, the emergency room was relatively empty. I waited about 10 minutes, and then a young doctor called me into his office. He said my ankle needed to be X-rayed.

Meeting with a doctor for a follow-up checkup in Beijing.

A doctor I visited at Sino-Japanese Hospital in Beijing. Patient-doctor disputes are common in China, and sometimes turn violent. 

Being a doctor in China can be a dangerous job. Disputes with patients are common, and sometimes turn violent. In October, a man in the eastern province of Zhejiang who was unhappy with the results of a nose operation stabbed a doctor to death and wounded two other people.

Seven people were killed and 28 injured in assaults on medical staff in 2012, according to Reuters. In response to the violence, security has been boosted at hospitals nationwide.

Part of the problem stems from a suspicion that doctors are more interested in making money through unnecessary surgeries and medication than finding the best treatment for a patient, the Reuters report said.

The X-ray came back and it was negative. But the doctor spotted an old injury on the inside of my ankle, a stress fracture that didn’t heal correctly, and said I should consider having surgery to correct it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read too many stories about patients disagreeing with their doctors, but I immediately thought about getting a second opinion.

A nurse put a splint on my ankle, and I paid my bill,  which, after insurance, came out to 85 yuan ($13.68). 

On the way out of the hospital, Liang and I cut through the wing where most Chinese nationals go for treatment. There were several long lines. Some are for families waiting to see their loved ones, while others are for patients registering to see doctors.

“Some people wait five days but still don’t get seen,” Liang said.

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4 thoughts on “Chinese healthcare: a bargain with a bother

  1. Jimmy! Good idea to get a second opinion! If Greg could see the X-rays, he could give you a second opinion!!

    Congratulations on your engagement!! I am so happy for you both!!

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