Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Where To Be Sick In China

The era of for-profit health care has arrived in the People's Republic, according to this article in the excellent Asia Times:
Notorious for lagging behind international standards, elite healthcare has gone high-end on the mainland, most visibly in the form of private clinics in luxury hotels. The St Regis is the latest to offer both butler, and clinical, services. In June, United Family Hospitals and Clinics expanded its Chinese facilities - already marked by deluxe decor - into the Hotel St Regis, Beijing. "Do you know that hotel?" asked United Family Hospitals' public relations manager Lily Sun, seated near a clinic bed draped in a golden sheet, an ornate flower-filled vase nearby. "It's a very good one, [isn't it]?"

Not far away from St Regis, the Swissotel Beijing has its own 700-square-meter healthcare center, known as the Hong Kong International Medical Clinic, Beijing. Along with minibar peanuts and spirits, payments for health services can be charged to Swissotel room accounts. "We use alcohol swabs just like outside of China," said the clinic's marketing manager Jennifer Jiao, demonstrating this emerging industry's eagerness not only to impress international clients with ambience, but to reassure them that the essence of quality care has arrived too.
Though China may not be ready to join countries favored by Americans for low-cost but high-quality medical (and plastic surgery) procedures, that day may be coming. Some of these new for-profit institutions offer bargains by American standards, along with direct billing to American insurance companies:
The cost of an Intech refractive eye procedure for the VIP crowd still isn't much more than one for locals by Western standards. It's $900 for a standard LASEK procedure that corrects both eyes (the most popular option with Chinese patients), and $1,100 for a VIP LASEK. The VIP procedure includes surgery by the most experienced doctor on staff and an upgrade to custom LASEK, which takes into account an individual eye's "fingerprint" and can yield better visual results. In the US, surgeons usually charge between $1,500 and $2,500 per eye for LASEK, according to a 2004 survey by the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.
But just as healthcare in the United States varies greatly according to the patient's insurance coverage, most ordinary Chinese are a long ways away from experiencing luxury healthcare:
for the average Chinese citizen, a visit to the doctor still is anything but a sumptuous experience. The lucky 15% of the Chinese population that has medical insurance, which is funded by the government, can only use it at public hospitals, Wood said. A 1999 study by the World Health Organization ranked China only 132 out of 191 countries for overall healthcare achievement. Chinese hospital space per bed averages 93 square meters, just half that of the 186 square-meter international standard, according to ChinaCare, which also noted that Chinese hospitals generally aren't clean and are rundown.

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