Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Hospital scalpers: where China's health system meets the black market

The southern Chinese city of Nanning in Guangxi province has launched a campaign against 'hospital scalpers' - the touts who offer patients and their families a chance to jump the very long queue for treatment. 
In a proclamation the city authorities said they had started a crackdown in order to "protect the security of the masses seeking healthcare treatment." In its official warning the Nanning City Health Inspection office said that hospital scalpers were swindlers who often hang about outside hospitals, on the periphery of clinics and also in public areas such as bus and train stations - and even in the lobbies of hotels near to major hospitals. The scalpers use deceptive and illegal means to lure victims into 'taking the wrong path' and avoid the long and frustratingly bureaucratic process by which patients must queue to get a registration number and then pay a deposit for a clinic appointment. According to the city health department, scalpers deceive patients and direct them into poor quality services often run from illegal clinics by unlicensed practitioners. Scalpers are also notorious for using threats, extortion and for overcharging, even to the point of robbing their victims. In the Nanning warning advice, city authorities give some examples of the scalpers' typical modus operandi.
Firstly, the scalpers target the busiest clinics and look out for gullible victims who appear to be in a hurry and unfamiliar with the system. The scalper is friendly and solicitous initially, advising the patients and family members that the official clinic is expensive and extremely busy and the service is poor. Sometimes they say the doctor on duty has a poor reputation or that the clinic is dirty and has poor hygiene. They then tell the victim that there is a better clinic nearby where they have connections and can get a quick appointment.
The scalper then personally escorts the victim to the nearby clinic, where the 'doctor' and staff do many unnecessary expensive tests and prescribes some very common and cheap medicine but charges a high price. These clinics often have signs claiming to be affiliated to military hospitals with a good reputation, and the staff say bad things about the genuine hospitals.
The advice from the Nanning health department is for patients to only attend genuine hospital clinics and to be wary of strangers around hospitals who make unsolicited approaches asking about illness and offering unsolicited medical services and personal introductions.

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