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June 16, 2014

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Smart solution to streamlining medical care

SHANGHAI public hospitals, beset by long queues, overloaded doctors and cumbersome registration and payment procedures, are turning to modern technology to streamline medical care.

All a patient needs is a smartphone.

Through applications and the WeChat platform, patients can now make appointments to see a doctor, register online and keep tabs on the waiting queues. After an outpatient visit, they can also pay their bills and even check on their test results by phone.

Last year, Shanghai’s some 500 public hospitals offered 224 million outpatient and emergency services. Some leading hospitals can receive more than 10,000 patients a day.

Queues at hospitals on busy days can see hundreds of people in one waiting room, waiting up to five hours to see a doctor.

A new e-medical system was introduced at Ruijin Hospital on May 28. Within the first 12 days, it served 5,500 users — most of them signing up to see a specialist.

“The apps are convenient and save time,” said Jenny Li, a university student who used the service to make an appointment with her dermatologist.

Hospital officials said the key to the system’s success is making it user-friendly.

Suo Zhongliang, director of Ruijin’s information center, said he knows all too well how frustrating the system can be when someone is ill and needs care.

“My son once had a fever at night and I took him to see a doctor,” he said. “There was a long queue and no seats available in the waiting room, so we waited in a fast-food outlet opposite the hospital. I had to cross the road repeatedly to check on where the queue was.”

The experience stoked up his enthusiasm for the new online system.

“Our system can tell patients by message when there are 10 patients ahead of them or when the queue gets down to three,” Suo explained.

“That allows patients to better manage their time, especially if they have jobs, and alleviates the need to spend hours and hours waiting in a hospital.”

He also noted that reducing the number of people in waiting rooms lessens the risk of infections spreading.


Shanghai Children’s Hospital is promoting a registration system based on the popular WeChat social networking platform.

“Every day, we have many people asking us how to use WeChat to register for an appointment,” said a member of staff at the hospital.

Wang Shu, a staff member in the hospital’s information department, said the WeChat registration system has 40,000 followers, increasing by 600 people a day since it was introduced two months ago.

About 15 to 20 percent of daily outpatient registrations now come via WeChat.

Meanwhile, Xinhua Hospital is the first in the city to enter into a partnership with Alipay, China’s largest third-party online payment service, to allow patients to pay medical bills online.

However, there are still glitches in the e-realm.

Patients complain about a lack of information about specialists, having to check many websites before determining who they should see and where.

“We’re working on these problems,” said Ruijin Hospital’s Suo. “But we’re moving in the right direction with a service that will really help the public.”


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