China's prescription for accessible, affordable healthcare

(Xinhua) 08:47, July 11, 2024

A nurse works at the neonatal intensive care unit in a hospital in Suqian City, east China's Jiangsu Province, May 12, 2024. (Photo by Xu Changliang/Xinhua)

BEIJING, July 10 (Xinhua) -- A year ago, Wang Xin (pseudonym)'s one-year-old daughter Qiqi was diagnosed with a rare disease. Local hospitals in central China's Henan Province advised them to seek immediate treatment at a more advanced hospital.

They embarked on a 700-kilometer journey northward, arriving at Beijing Children's Hospital where Qiqi underwent two surgeries.

Thanks to China's nationwide initiative to enhance local hospital service capabilities, a hospital in Qiqi's home province improved its medical standards and Qiqi was later transferred to this hospital to continue her treatment.

"The medical facilities in this hospital are comparable to those in Beijing," Wang said. "Having a good hospital near our home saves a lot of trouble."

This transformation was made possible by China's unwavering commitment to ensuring that its 1.4 billion people have access to high-quality medical care.

Over the past decade, China's healthcare reform has focused on channeling medical resources to grassroots hospitals, reducing medicine prices and improving hospital services, with significant progress made in these areas.


China has long grappled with an uneven distribution of medical resources for its vast population, with patients frequently seeking care in hospitals in major urban centers such as Beijing and Shanghai or regional capital cities, where high-quality care are typically concentrated. However, the country has now committed to addressing this issue.

In recent years, China's top-notch hospitals have been building their "replica" hospitals based on existing facilities in under-sourced areas. This initiative aims to enhance local healthcare services and ensure that most patients can receive medical care within their region of residence.

Beijing Children's Hospital, for example, is developing Zhengzhou Hospital of Beijing Children's Hospital, where Qiqi was transferred, as one of its "replicas."

Over the past four years, Beijing Children's Hospital has dispatched more than 2,700 professionals to serve at Zhengzhou Hospital, provided guidance for over 1,200 surgeries and treated nearly 30,000 children.

"Beijing Children's Hospital provides management expertise, technologies and professionals to Zhengzhou Hospital. It has effectively enhanced our medical service capabilities and enabled patients with common ailments to be treated locally," said Zhang Jie, head of Zhengzhou Hospital. Zhang was the doctor who previously performed surgeries for Qiqi at Beijing Children's Hospital.

In 2023, compared to 2019, the number of outpatient children from Henan seeking treatment at Beijing Children's Hospital dropped by 39,600 visits, representing a reduction of 42.07 percent.

Moreover, more than 1,000 top-tiered hospitals in China have directly partnered with county-level hospitals, providing patients in less-developed areas such as Xizang and Xinjiang with access to high-quality medical care.

"These efforts further improve the healthcare service system, narrow the gap in medical technology between different regions and promote the balanced distribution of medical resources," said Ni Xin, head of Beijing Children's Hospital.

With more patients going to local hospitals, more medical resources will be reserved for children with severe conditions, rare diseases and complex illnesses, Ni added.


Before having knee replacement surgery earlier this year, a woman surnamed Li from central China's Hunan Province had endured 10 years of pain in her right knee. The cost of an artificial knee joint -- 32,000 yuan (about 4,400 U.S. dollars) -- had held her back.

However, a government-led bulk procurement of artificial joints in 2022 reduced the average price of a knee joint to 5,000 yuan. The price drop reignited Li's hope, and she gladly accepted the surgery. "The national policy helps me save over 20,000 yuan in medical expenses. It's great!" she said.

In recent years, the country has procured 374 types of medicines in nine batches, more than halving their prices on average. The national centralized procurement of eight types of high-value medical consumables such as heart stents and artificial joints has reduced the prices by over 80 percent on average. When combined with local bulk procurement, these efforts have collectively alleviated the public's medical expense burden by approximately 500 billion yuan.

"The centralized procurement scheme will be ramped up to tackle the issue of high medical costs and deliver tangible benefits to patients," said Wang Guodong, an official with the National Healthcare Security Administration.

Official data revealed that the proportion of personal healthcare expenditures borne by residents decreased from over 34 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2022.

China's continuously updated national medical insurance catalogs also contributed to the lowered personal healthcare costs. Currently, the medicine catalog covers more than 3,000 types of medicines, accounting for over 90 percent of the drugs used in public medical institutions.

Today, China has established the world's largest basic healthcare insurance network, covering over 95 percent of its citizens by the end of 2023.


Upon his arrival at Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital in east China's Jiangsu Province on May 5, Chen Fan (pseudonym) was advised by the consulting doctor to undergo a chest CT scan; yet, due to time constraints, the scan results were not immediately available, leaving Chen worried about securing another appointment.

But, Chen was able to consult his doctor twice within three days through a single appointment, accessing his results and receiving further consultation on May 7, all facilitated by a new policy aimed at enhancing patient convenience in Jiangsu's public hospitals.

Long wait times for registration, medical examinations and settling hospital bills were once common grievances among patients in Chinese hospitals. However, recent years have witnessed a drastic shift.

According to the National Health Commission (NHC), over 5,500 hospitals at the county level and above now provide "one-stop" services, enabling 77.7 percent of hospitalized patients to settle their bills on the day of discharge.

Furthermore, mutual recognition of medical examination results has been achieved in 88.2 percent of public hospitals at the county level and above, reducing the need for repetitive tests at different facilities.

Li Dachuan, an NHC official, said that this year, the NHC will address new expectations and demands of the people to drive significant advances in healthcare services.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


Related Stories