Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Price gouging at 'first class' hospitals

by Guo Jun
Recently, media reports have again concentrated on insiders' revelations about the inflated prices of medical testing at hospitals.
In the past few years, China has put a lot of efforts into medical reforms such as reducing the price of medicine and enhancing the role of district hospitals.
However, there's one more thing missing - medical testing that is not affiliated with any one hospital and could provide independent and adequate diagnoses for patients and doctors.
A few years ago, I needed to have an MRI scan as part of the treatment for my cervical spondylosis, an arthritic condition.
I went to a local triple-A hospital, a first-class hospital in China. It had two types of equipment, with 800 yuan ($128.6) and 1,100 yuan testing fees needed respectively.
Feeling it was too expensive, I went to a second-class hospital and did the testing there, which cost me only 380 yuan.
A doctor from this second-class hospital told me that first-class hospitals can set prices for medical tests by themselves, while the others have to do it under the supervision of the local price bureau. Such double standards are revolting.
Nonetheless, quite a number of patients choose to go for first-class hospitals because they believe that only these hospitals have advanced medical equipment.
In the US, patients would go to see family physicians first. Some physicians open a clinic together or those specializing in the same field collaborate.
These clinics don't have advanced testing equipment or laboratories. But doctors need medical data to prove that their diagnoses are correct.
The way that Americans solve this problem is by setting up independent medical testing institutions that are able to provide necessary tests for all patients.
As these institutions are independent professionally and economically, they are neutral toward all clinics, and it is also good for the updating of equipment and the improvement of personnel quality.
In China, hospitals are classified by three grades. All the most advanced testing equipment is given to first-class hospitals.
When patients who go to ordinary hospitals need the equipment for testing and diagnosis, they have to re-register with first-class hospitals. 
China can learn from the US experiences, and try to establish independent testing institutions. This can increase the diagnosis skills of doctors from district hospitals.
In this way, doctors can also learn whether they have made the right judgment of an illness, thus improving their medical skills.
Meanwhile, it could enhance the trust of patients in district hospitals and raise their confidence in doctors.
Moreover, big hospitals would dare not to make medical equipment detection a means to generate revenue.
Of course, some special fields and treatment means can be limited to first-class hospitals.
However, an authoritative testing institution is bound to improve the medical skills of doctors from other hospitals and help ease the crowding in larger ones.
The author is a professor with the Harbin Institute of Technology.
Source: Global Times

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