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High-priced healthcare
By Andrew Moody and Ding Qingfen (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-07 07:50

Coco He, 30, who works in sales for China International Capital Corp, gave birth to a boy at foreign-run Amcare Women's and Children's Hospital in Beijing last year.

She said she was surprised at the difference in standards at foreign-run and State-run hospitals.

"The (private) hospital is clean and nicely decorated, with the walls painted in light blue and green, pictures on the walls and potted flowers placed around the rooms. There is no smell of disinfectant, either. All of these make you feel at home," she said.

"Unlike in the public sector, we could make an appointment for a fixed time. When we arrived, we were led straight away by a smiling girl to see the doctor," she said. Only days before, she had been to a State-owned women's hospital.

"Nurses and doctors there were kind of rude and impatient, and my husband and I spent half a day for just a simple examination. We felt exhausted," she said.

Lipson of Chindex said couples who have babies in private hospitals tend to become long-term customers.

"When they have experienced first hand the sort of treatment they get here, they are naturally very reluctant to return to the public hospital sector," she said.

Xu has continued visiting the hospital for medical services for her family, citing the quality of care and also what she believes is a greater risk of infection at public hospitals.

"You have to wait for hours with a lot of sick children, and there is always the risk of picking up something," she said about public hospitals.

"I think this has been quite cost-effective going to a foreign hospital," she added. "The level of attention you get means you often only have to visit once and not make repeat visits, as in a public hospital."

Cost barriers

However, the cost of the foreign-run healthcare services means she and her husband are unlikely to have a second child, she said.

"I think if we had a second baby at a private hospital it would be difficult to afford to the sort of education we want for Qi Qi. If we did, we might have to consider using a public hospital, but we wouldn't want to do that," she said.

Cherrie Che, a healthcare analyst with business advisers Ernst & Young in China, said that although there are a growing number of foreign hospitals, the number is still relatively small.

Che said foreign investors from Europe and the United States will increasingly look to form joint ventures with established hospitals in China, but she added that such deals are fraught with complications.

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"A big problem is in the accounting system. Their joint venture partners will be part of government services, and there is a problem interpreting the financial information as a result," she said.

She also cited uncertainties about the country's reimbursement system and the lack of private medical insurance in China.

"The current government policy does not provide clear guidance to those wanting to make long-term investment decisions," she said.

Lipson said she believes the growth of foreign hospitals is unstoppable, because many Chinese consumers will demand the best quality healthcare for themselves and their families.

"If they go to a city, they want to stay at a five-star hotel, eat in a five-star restaurant and drive in a lovely car of their choosing. They are therefore demanding that level of service in healthcare. Patients want to feel valued and respected," she said.

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