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October 15, 2012

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

Expats begin to put faith in local medical services

EDITOR'S note:

As the city recaps its achievements in the past five years and maps out the blueprint for the next period, Shanghai Daily is running a series of reports exploring how expat life has evolved accordingly. We welcome our readers to participate in our interactive polls and surveys on our website: www.shanghaidaily. com or write to us through: metro@shanghaidaily.

Manami Doi, 41, a Japanese expatriate living in Shanghai, sits by the bed of her two-year-old son Yutaro in a VIP ward of Shanghai Children's Hospital.

The boy, recovering from pneumonia, is preoccupied watching cartoons on television. His mother's thoughts are of relief that he's on the mend.

"The doctors and nurses here have been nice and very kind," said Doi, who has been living in Shanghai for five years. "Their skills are very good, and this environment is comfortable."

Falling ill in a foreign country is the nightmare of every expatriate. Will they get the quality of care they are used to back home? Will they even be able to communicate with doctors treating them?

In Shanghai, home to about 300,000 expats, such anxieties are eased somewhat by the burgeoning number of internationally operated clinics and hospitals, and by the creation of VIP wards in public hospitals.

There are some 2,700 hospitals and medical clinics in the city, and 30 of them have set up special wards catering to foreigners. There are also 20 international hospitals and clinics financed by overseas investment and employing some foreign medical personnel.

Facilities are all fine and well, but a quality care delivery system also requires easy access and personal attention for patients in time of stress.

"Expatriates often do feel that health care in Shanghai is difficult because there are no general physicians like in their own countries," said Peter Liu, CEO of Shanghai Delta Hospital and Clinics, a Sino-US joint venture health facility.

"In the West," he said, "most people have a family GP who acts like a gatekeeper, offering primary care and guiding them through hospital care if needed. There is no similar service in Shanghai, and expatriates don't know which department to go to for help in a local hospital."

Then, too, public hospitals can be crowded and cacophonous, with doctors too busy to give any individual patient much attention.

"Compared with Western hospitals, the process of seeing a doctor and finding services focused on patients lags far behind in China," Liu said. "Patients have to go to different floors for different tests and to pay bills. Doctors who have too many patients have no time to explain diagnoses and treatments carefully."

That was certainly the experience of Rossi Massimiliamo, a 39-year-old businessman from Italy, who said he felt isolated from doctors when he was treated in a public hospital.

"They made the diagnosis without carefully assessing my condition," he said. "They seemed too busy to talk with me. I wasn't impressed."

Western-style services don't come cheap. Payments in an international hospital may be 10-fold higher or more, depending on the facilities and the treatment given. For the extra money, patients get medical staff who are less harried. Bilingual help is usually available. The wards are quieter. The interior decor is soothing.

Public hospitals have been trying to emulate the Western health-care system by setting up VIP wards, which have the added advantage of payment access to international health insurance plans.

Liu said these international medical facilities are a welcome addition to Shanghai's health system. "Local hospitals are learning from the Western service concept, but it will take a long time," he said. "It's one thing to set up a special area with better decor, but quite another to adopt patient-focused services and assemble highly qualified professional staff."

Among local hospitals in the city, Shanghai East Hospital sees the largest number of expats, treating about 20,000 a year.

Shanghai East, located in the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong New Area, was the first publicly owned medical facility in the city to open a joint venture international hospital, financed with US investment.

"Language, international insurance and quality service are the biggest concerns of international patients," Liu Zhongmin, president of Shanghai East Hospital, recently told a medical forum in Shanghai.

"But I think they are gaining increasing confidence in the skills of Chinese doctors."

A 1995 city government survey of expats and investors found that 70 percent of respondents wanted medical care to be available within 20 minutes and wanted health services to be of high quality.

In that era, most expats went home or to places like Hong Kong for surgical treatment. Nowadays, more are choosing to stay in Shanghai.


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