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Published on Nov 7, 2013 in Asia, China, Featured Articles, News

Visiting a Doctor in China

Photo from

Photo from

Unlike in Western countries, most doctors in China work in hospitals. China has both private and public hospitals, as well as hospitals established for foreigners. Most hospitals for foreigners, and private clinics which primarily cater to foreigners, are in larger Chinese cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, where quite a few foreigners are employed.

Because private hospitals and clinics are expensive, most Chinese will visit doctors in public hospitals. I’ve actually visited a Chinese doctor twice, in a hospital and as a patient, in the eleven years I’ve been going to China. Here’s my experiences when visiting a doctor in China.

There’s a line. There’s always a queue in China. The length of the queue varies. At a public Chinese hospital your wait to see a doctor might be hours. At a hospital for foreigners, it may be a little less.

Also, if you have an emergency and need an ambulance, you can dial 120 and an ambulance will be immediately dispatched. However, traffic in China’s cities can be fearsome, and this is the biggest hindrance in getting an ambulance to you quickly as the mass of cars on China’s highways leave very little room to maneuver.

Assuming you can drive to a hospital, once you check in with the person controlling admittance, and pay a small fee, you’re then directed to a doctor that best suits your medical situation. This fee varies by hospital, but is approximately $1.60 per regular visit for a Chinese citizen. A specialist visit may cost around $2.45. Visiting a hospital for foreigners, I paid a slightly higher fee. I believe it was approximately $20 – $25.

There’s a large seating area outside each doctor’s office, and the doctor will see you in the order you’re seated. In my case, I waited about an hour during my first visit, and an hour and a half on my second visit to a Chinese hospital before I entered the doctor’s office.

The medical care I received from the doctor I visited was very good. He was both thorough and knowledgeable, and patiently explained the treatment he was prescribing. I noticed that, in the hospital for foreigners, there were quite a few foreign doctors who worked there. In both of my visits each doctor spoke English, correctly diagnosed what was wrong, and gave me a prescription for treatment that turned out to be right on the money.

One thing I quickly learned about Chinese hospitals is that they don’t bring you the medication and then bill you for it. You pre-pay for almost everything in a Chinese hospital. That even includes the ER. You, or someone you’re with, will have to go to the hospital pharmacy to pay for the prescribed medication, and then bring it to the proper medical professional for treatment. In my case, I was able to walk down the two flights of stairs from the doctor’s office to the out-patient section of the hospital, and pay for the medication prescribed.

In my first visit to the hospital I had an abscessed tooth, and the infection spread throughout my body. I was one sick person. The doctor prescribed four days of IV’s, with two treatments per day. In China, 80 percent of the time you go to a Chinese hospital you’ll receive a prescription for IV’s. Once I purchased the IV’s from the pharmacist, I hauled all 8 bottles (this hospital didn’t have disposable IV bags), plus the other assorted medical paraphernalia that was prescribed, up one flight of stairs to another section of the hospital where I would be administered the IV’s. I gave the bag I carried from the pharmacy to the technician, hopped up on the table, and received my IV’s. A week later I felt much better and was able to get on an airplane and go home.

One thing that shocked me when I visited the doctor in a Chinese hospital was the general appearance of the facility. Paint was chipping off the corridor walls, the tile floor had probably been there since the time of Mao, and the lights were dimly lit fluorescent fixtures that were showing their age. This image, however, was inconsistent with the quality of medical care within the hospital. In my experience, Chinese doctors are very knowledgeable and provide competent medical care to those they treat. They administer to a staggering number of patients in facilities that may be shut down in the US. They’re also not well paid, unlike doctors in Western countries. Nevertheless, despite the waiting time and crowded conditions, doctors in China seem to do an excellent job.

Alan Refkin

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