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Hospital network sees medical tourist numbers increasing

By Mao Weihua and Xu Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-17 06:45

An online network of hospitals is turning the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region into an attractive destination for medical tourists from Central Asia, health officials said.

The system, launched in the summer, allows patients seeking treatment overseas to consult Chinese doctors for free and book other services, such as flights, airport pickups, accommodation and even city tours.

Anar, 37, spent two weeks receiving treatment for migraines and dizziness in her native Almaty, Kazakhstan, before she used the network to connect with the Second Affiliated Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University in Urumqi. Doctors advised her to travel to China for treatment, which she did in September last year.

"The ailment had been troubling me for a long time and there were simply no signs of improvement," she said. "Here (in Urumqi) it only took a week to recover."

Anar said the standard of care and medical equipment in Urumqi is better than in her home country.

Doctors in Kazakhstan had diagnosed a problem with her cerebral blood flow, but their treatment proved unsuccessful. In Urumqi, medics used drugs to reduce muscle tension, which stopped her migraines, she said.

The network is the latest effort by health authorities in Urumqi to boost the lure of the region to tourists through improved medical services.

The Xinjiang People's Hospital has handled nearly 6,000 cases involving patients from Central Asian countries since the start of 2015, of which 305 trips have resulted in the hospitalization of a patient.

Liu Weiming, an official with the Urumqi health commission, said the platform, which employs the latest internet technology, is designed to be an open and free platform.

The platform, developed by the health commission and Shanghai-based Winning Health Technology Group Co, has so far connected 19 hospitals in Urumqi, 17 hospitals in Kyrgyzstan, two in Georgia and seven in Kazakhstan.

The authorities are aiming to promote the platform to another 40 medical institutes in Xinjiang next year and sign up 100 more hospitals in cities across Central Asia.

Mokhamat, a surgeon at the Xinjiang People's Hospital, which has a partnership with a hospital in Kyrgyzstan, said doctors from the hospital send patients' information to China before their consultation to ensure a smooth process.

"The consultation process is totally free, and we also make sure the treatment fee is the same for both Chinese and foreign patients," Mokhamat said.

One problem is that insurers in Central Asia do not cover the costs of traveling to China for medical treatment, which may put some potential patients off, according to Du Peng, a doctor at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University.

"Many patients want to receive professional treatment in China, but insurance has proved a major challenge," Du said, adding that patients in Central Asian nations generally enjoy free healthcare services.

Liu said the authorities are working with government departments to solve issues involving medical insurance and visas, since most people now travel as tourists.

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