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Doctors look to break public system shackles

By Yuan Quan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-19 07:07

Lack of patients

Another problem facing freelance medics is the lack of patients. During his toughest period, Kang had just one patient a day.

Zhang Qiang, a leading vascular surgeon from Shanghai who became the country's first freelance doctor, also suffered a loss of popularity: "Before I quit the public hospital, I had about 200 operations to do, but when I ran my own business, only five patients followed me. It's really a big test for doctors."

According to Kang, China's top hospitals are all State-owned, and they have the most-advanced medical equipment and the best-trained medical staff.

"Despite offering all these services, doctors never learn, or need, to please their patients. After leaving public hospitals, they don't know how to compete in the market. We have to be nice to patients, because they are customers," he said.

Building brands

To reach the public, freelance doctors are taking to social media and apps to popularize medical science.

More than 2,000 healthcare apps are available to enable users to contact doctors either by instant message or phone. Their conversations are open to other users, who can assess a doctor's services and skills at a glance, rather than by researching their qualifications. Some have millions of followers.

"In the past, doctors waited for patients, but now we look for patients," Kang said.

While some experts predict that China will see an upsurge in the number of freelance doctors in the next 15 years, Kang said there's still a long way to go. "Few people would pay more to see a doctor at a private hospital," he said.

Moreover, online consultation comes with the risk of misdiagnosis or disclosure of personal information. Patients often become angry at high fees, leading to disputes at private hospitals, which still require government scrutiny and regulation.

Duan Tao, a former president of the Shanghai First Maternity and Infant Hospital and now a freelance doctor, urged public hospitals to reduce workloads by canceling unnecessary administrative meetings and inspections.

"In a word, give time back to the doctors, and give the doctors back to the patients." 

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