China Over-Reliant on Hospitals, Needs More Family Doctors

August 20, 2016, 5:33 PM UTC
Doctors diagnose a patient remotely at the First Hospital of Zhejiang Province in Hangzhou
Doctors diagnose a patient remotely at the First Hospital of Zhejiang Province in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, September 24, 2014. Technology is playing a growing role as Beijing overhauls a healthcare management sector blighted by chaotic patient data, underfunded rural health centres, overburdened city hospitals and a nationwide shortage of doctors. Government-supported programs are looking to leverage specialised software and communication equipment to get the most out of in-demand doctors and specialists at leading hospitals. China's healthcare management sector is growing at close to 40 percent a year and will hit $38 billion in the next five years, according to local consultancy Raisewin International. Picture taken September 24, 2014. To match CHINA-HEALTHCARE/DIGITAL. REUTERS/Adam Jourdan (CHINA - Tags: HEALTH SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR4A7C5
Photograph by Reuters

China’s healthcare system is overly reliant on large, over-burdened hospitals, which will struggle to cope with a spike in diseases linked to the fast-ageing population, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.

Even for minor ailments, Chinese patients often shun family doctors or general practitioners in favor of big city general hospitals, a trend that creates often snarling queues and fierce competition for treatment.

“As China’s health challenges … continue to mount, with an aging population, so too will the demands on the country’s health system, along with the costs,” WHO China representative Bernhard Schwartlander said in a commentary, pointing to rising rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“It is simply not sustainable to meet these challenges in a health system that relies on hospitals.”

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China has been trying to overhaul its healthcare system, including promoting local, grassroots medical facilities and pledging to raise the number – and quality – of local GPs. However, low doctor salaries and a lack of trust by patients in local health centers has slowed progress.

The WHO pointed to long queues, difficult booking systems and tight consultation slots that often last just a few minutes.

“(It is) a symptom of the enormous patient load and pressure which doctors in China face every day,” it said. “But this is not how things should be in a well-functioning health system.”