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February 21, 2011

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

Kids hospitals' popularity unjustified

NEW father Gong Min, already concerned about a skin condition his three-month-old son was suffering from, faced further anxiety when he had to endure a day's wait at a local hospital for his child to be examined.

"There were so many parents with sick children in the waiting room," Gong said, recounting his experience waiting to see a specialist at the Children's Hospital of Fudan University last week.

"Doctors were busy all day, yet in the end it took just 15 minutes for a specialist to check my son and write a prescription."

"The skin condition made my son itchy and uncomfortable and he cried as the room was crowded and stuffy. I didn't know what to do, but all the nurses and doctors were so busy that no one had the time nor energy to direct me," Gong said.

While there are general city and district-level hospitals near Gong's home in Putuo District, he would rather travel to the specialist children's hospital in Minhang District.

Gong's choice reflects a trend across the city, leading to an imbalance in services.

Parents place their faith in the city's four specialist pediatric hospitals, which see 3,000 to 4,000 patients every day. At the same time, there are few patients at the pediatrics departments of general hospitals.

Many general hospitals - at city, district and community level - have scaled back or closed pediatric services due to lack of demand.

Compared with adult treatment, pediatrics departments are less profitable as there are fewer drugs for children, doses are much lower and they receive fewer tests.

"Pediatricians are the busiest and most tired staff in the hospital. We shoulder a big responsibility as young children are unable to describe symptoms and parents are very anxious," said Dr Xu Tong, director of Changzheng Hospital's pediatrics department.

As numbers of young patients have reduced from 400 a day in the 1990s to around 50 now, Changzheng ended inpatient and emergency services for children. The situation is similar at other city-level hospitals, such as Ruijin and Renji.

Industry insiders say this is becoming a vicious circle, where as parents increasingly opt for specialist hospitals, pediatric services at general hospitals will continue to decline.

"Half the children seen by specialist hospitals have colds and fever, which could easily be treated locally," Xu said. "Parents needn't queue in a crowded hospital."

Meanwhile, specialist pediatric hospitals complain of excessive workloads and want the government to increase support.

"Around 20 nurses resign each year due to the heavy workload and tense relations with parents," said Dr Liu Jinfen, president of Shanghai Children's Medical Center.

"Three nurses were assaulted by angry parents last month, after their children cried or had to receive a second injection while receiving intravenous drips," said Liu.

He added that pediatricians are paid less and have fewer career opportunities than other doctors.

Experts say the government must do more to persuade parents to take their children to general hospitals and encourage medical students to choose a career in pediatrics.


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