Sunday, 9 February 2014

A note on China's 'guided news' in healthcare

Editor's note: In the three months that I have been translating Chinese-language medical and healthcare stories into English I've noticed that a clear pattern emerging. Every week or so a story theme emerges for stories across China, in which a certain issue is covered in slightly different ways by local media outlets. One clear example of this has been the  shortage of doctors in certain specialities such as emergency medicine and paediatrics. Over a period of 10-20 days I would notice a crop of stories about paediatrician shortages emerging from right across the nation.  Interestingly, each region would have its own angle on the issue: in Heilongjiang the local media might interview a hospital manager and get feedback about difficulties in recruiting new doctors. In Nanning, however, the local media might do a 'day in the life' type feature on the problems of being a paediatrician in a busy and understaffed children's ward. The overall message would be the same. I don't think I'm being too paranoid in thinking that this suggests a certain degree of 'guided news coverage' is being co-ordinated at a national level. In other words, a central media department is instructing regional media outlets that a certain issue must be highlighted in local news coverage. In the last few weeks I've noticed that there have been more stories about the costs of drugs and how hospitals and doctors are tackling the problems of overservicing and high drug prices (eg with the' corridor doctor' story). All these stories seem to be aimed at supporting the Chinese government's latest policy of curbing high drug prices and reining in hospital costs.
Here are a few examples of  'news themes' from the last few weeks:

  • Doctor shortages in emergency medicine and paediatrics.
  • Overservicing by hospitals
  • Drug prices too high - and corruption/kickbacks
  • Violence against doctors - and the contributory factors of workforce supply and demand
  • Medical insurance coverage to be extended
  • Primary care clinic expansion
  • Medical education reforms - internships
  • Private investment in healthcare

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