- Gordon Dumoulin
your global hospital and medical treatment center | DIFFERENT CHINA (ep 5)
China today is known for their reputation as global factory since a few decades. Although many basic goods productions are shifting today to other countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam or the Philippines due to increasing costs and tighter regulations in China, China maintains smart in the field pulling the strings and holding the ownerships for the global basic goods production.
More recently China is becoming known as center for innovation, environment and digital, high-tech developments in the world. The Chinese government is stimulating these disciplines and also the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China emphasized these disciplines together with among others education and health care reform and development.
Lesser known but experiencing a significant growth is the increase of foreigners coming to China for medical care and treatment. One might correctly conclude in the West that more and more wealthy and even middle class Chinese people are shifting towards the Western world such as Europe and the USA for medical treatments. It is more surprising that the medical care travel route vice versa is also growing significantly. This medical care travel growth is not only coming from developing countries but also more and more patients from developed countries in Europe and America.
Why do foreigners move towards China for medical treatment and surgery ?
Medical treatment, analysis and surgery standards in Chinese hospitals have strongly improved during the last decade through education, technology and investment. Actual many new innovations in the medical world are originating from China these days. In this article we are not going to discuss about specific medical tasks quality of Chinese hospitals in relation to the same specific tasks in Western hospitals as this is a different discussion.
Foreigners are attracted by availability, efficiency, costs and ethics. Chinese hospitals offer similar services at usually much lower costs and faster delivery. Especially for patients with urgent needs for treatment or surgery, the medical care in Europe or the USA is either not available in time due to restricted capacity (long waiting times) or not affordable due to high costs which are often not covered by insurances.
As an example, one patient from Denmark was ‘forced’ to come to China as he was diagnosed cancer in Denmark and the first availability slot at public hospitals for further tests and treatment was two months away which might have been too late. He could have entered a private hospital within two weeks but the costs of almost USD 45.000 would not have been covered and was not affordable by the family.
He heard through relations in China about the possibilities and he underwent tests and surgery within 7 days after arrival in China plus a recovery period of 15 days at the costs of not even USD 8.000. Even adding the additional costs such as flights, this was an affordable proposal and the surgery was successful.
Delivery times and costs are a huge issue for medical care in Western countries. Work load regulations are a major influence on delivery time, while many surgeons in Europe are allowed to perform only 4-5 surgeries per month, Chinese surgeons often handle 8-10 surgeries per week. Another discussion in society would again be quality versus quantity which will not be handled in this article and is not viable for urgent need patients. One of the major causes of the huge medical care costs in Western countries are the immense bureaucracy of the complicated medical welfare systems.
Another major reason why foreign patients are coming to China for treatment is the actual availability of specific medical treatments and methods. This is a sensitive question of ethics and culture. Western cultures often have an approach towards medical care based on certainty, trials as well as history & culture.
The Western medical care culture is generally conservative and risk-avoiding. Certainty through long term scientific research and trials and a deep-rooted control by governments and medical specialists towards the judgment for people's medical status makes certain medical treatments and care unavailable or results in a decision not to provide. This feeling of deep-rooted control and conservatism has grown through centuries of time, mostly dominated by religions. Western people often see doctors and medical specialists as decision-makers for their own health and medical state.
A more negative influence in the Western business culture of medical care is the enormous power which pharmaceutical and insurance business giants have in relevant national government departments to determine the availability of treatments and medicines through the medical welfare systems, mostly for their own business focus and profitability.
The Chinese culture and system of medical care seems to be more pragmatic without a burden of deep-rooted conservative history. Naturally there are strong regulations for medical insurances and patients’ well-being and protection and also a pharmaceutical business influence. But Chinese people see doctors and medical specialists more as advisors and often ask second opinions or search for alternatives before they make any medical decisions for their own body. For example Traditional Chinese Medicine is deeply rooted in the society and still many people tend towards Traditional Chinese Medicine instead of ‘Western’ medical treatment. However this is a choice by the Chinese people themselves through history, not forced by today’s government or doctors.
The Chinese society generally provides more options and also medical possibilities which have not yet been approved by Western governments or very limited available. Examples are experimental stem-cell treatments for blind people or cryotherapy and nanoknife surgery (irreversible electroporation) for advanced stage cancer patients. Also the ancient expertise of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ is often an alternative for foreign patients who “have been given up” by the Western medical care system. It is estimated that approximately 200000 foreigners visit China every year for TCM treatment.
Consequences and Future for local and global medical care
As the medical care system in Western nations tends to be more as a medical decision-making power for individual people’s choices of treatment or lack thereof with high expenses and long waiting times, today’s world citizens tend to go more and more in search for alternatives all over the world.
Especially the high costs, long waiting times, rejection of ‘risky’ alternatives together with a fast improving medical care quality standard in other countries such as China, might place the Western medical care systems in a strong competition with a high chance of losing ‘customers’ as even their own national patients will move to other countries for treatment.
This will result in a potential risk of medical welfare system collapses in especially Europe as the medical care incomes will not cover the welfare, bureaucracy and system costs anymore. In the long run, individual countries might not be able anymore to 'force' their citizens to pay national medical insurances.
It might well be the start of a global differentiation process of medical care segments and specialties all over the world. And this global process is an amazingly strong competition in which countries and industries need to compete. Otherwise they will lose out on any significant medical care providers within their own society in the long run. Their citizens will fly out over the world to have their treatments and surgeries done at available and affordable places.
The shape of the global medical care future is still unknown but it is certain that the medical care globalization process will have a huge impact on local medical care (welfare) systems and structures. And China is moving and developing with speed to establish its position in the medical care world.
“Different CHINA” is a series telling different sides of China which are lesser known to the world. China is well known through many publications for its miraculous speed of developments and growth in technology, environment, commerce, social structures and international standing with Chinese people embracing innovation while keeping tradition highly valued. But this image does not do full justice as China is so much more in its diversity, culture, environment, people and initiatives. “Different CHINA” is part of 5iZ.