I’ve been meaning to write a piece discussing healthcare, more specifically, healthcare in the US versus in China. Arriving back in Beijing last Thursday, cabbing past Haidian hospital on the way to buying a cheap cellular phone, reminded me of my experiences. I went to the hospital twice the last time I was in Beijing, once to get a CAT scan (story for another day), and another for a routine checkup: physical, pap, blood tests etc. By American standards, my routine visit would have felt timely, scarring, and somewhere between the ballparks of assault and strange elation.
In China, patients don’t have primary care physicians, headache inducing referrals to specialists, and monthlong waits before getting an appointment slot. On the other hand, you’ll also rarely experience the same level of comfort, privacy, or personal attention you might expect to receive, unless you find yourself at one of the uninspiring, overpriced English hospitals meant for expats.
The first thing you do in a Chinese hospital is get a ticket, or number (yes, it is quite like standing in line for your deli meats at the grocery store), then register with your department. It’s first come, first serve, so it’s often simpler to put your name down and go find something better to do for a few hours. The administrators aren’t particularly pleasant, but that’s because they have to shuffle hundreds of patients in and out per day. Patients are sent to doctors in batches, and at the same time I was talking to my doctor, four other women were yapping all around me. The pap was the worst part, by American standards. A curtain separates you and the rest of the world, and most of the other women weren’t smart enough or perhaps didn’t care enough to not take a peek periodically. The doctor told me to get behind there, take off my pants, and jump in the stirrups. No privacy really, but hey, I guess women here couldn’t care less about seeing other female privates.
All in all, it was pretty painless, and the bonus of my blood test results coming back nearly instantaneously (you scan a barcode and print out the results from a machine — never having seen your technician) really made up for a lot of the horrors I otherwise experienced. Could I get used to it? I suppose, but I really wouldn’t want to put myself through such discomfort again if given the option.
Medical care as a whole is still in a rather strange state in China. The government has been rapidly expanding its socialist healthcare programs, making it now mandatory for many school-aged children to put in a premium towards health insurance. It’s called a premium, since it isn’t taken directly out of taxes, but because the government really pushes for it, the result winds up essentially the same. I was surprised, insurance here covers a lot. At the risk of sounding like communist propaganda, I’d venture that healthcare is rather more developed and better operated here than in the States.
Location: Beijing, China