Saturday, May 30, 2009

Healthcare in China

[Cross-posted from our WFU MBA China '09 blog]

After meeting with United Family Healthcare, we had the opportunity to speak with several Beijing residents about healthcare in China. Several interesting aspects emerged, which highlighted major differences from the United States.

  1. You don't make appointments with a family doctor or at a local clinic. If you have an issue, you take the day off work and go to the hospital. There you stand in line and wait for a doctor to examine and treat you. The doctors don't make much from a basic visit (fixed fee), but instead make the majority of the money on prescriptions. So most Chinese people are often over-prescribed with each visit, to the point that they feel the doctor has failed them if they don't walk out with a list of prescriptions.
  2. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is primarily focused on reactive medicine rather that the preventative medicine of the west.
  3. The majority of people in China do not have health insurance. This has resulted in people saving massive amounts of money (50-80% savings rates) out of fear of major medical bills. This is recognized as a major cultural issue by the Chinese government, so effects are underway to consider ways to create a social "safety net" system.
  4. The level of doctor skills in China is excellent, both because many of them have been educated in the US, but also because science is so heavily emphasized in the schools from an early age.
  5. The average lifespan is 71 (Male) and 74 (Female). While the air and water quality have serious challenges, the fact that their diet is low in fat and they frequently exercise (walking, bike riding, kung-fu, tai-chi, etc.) contributes to this longevity.

Just as in the US, China has a growing ederly population and will face similar long-term healthcare issues. Without social security of Medicare / Medicaid type programs, many elderly will potentially move in with their children. While this was traditionally accepted, as more of China becomes westernized and the young families are more focused on careers (with only a single child), this is beginning to cause some culture changes and difficulties across the generations.

Long term the population will face the risks associated with growing pollution problems and water shortages. Combine this with the growing western influence to their diets and China has some potentially large challenges to address over the next 10-20 years of their evolution.

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