Sunday, 31 May 2015

China healthcare headlines - June 2015

Beijing to ban smoking in public place 

Smoking will be banned in public areas of Beijing such as restaurants, offices and on public transport from 1 June, but enforcement is in doubt. According to the new anti-smoking rules, smokers will face
fines of 200 yuan ($32.25) for smoking near hospitals and schools, while business can be fined up to 10,000 yuan ($1,600) for failing to enforce no-smoking areas.

Doctor killer executed

The man who stabbed a doctor to death at a Wenling hospital in a dispute over  surgery outcomes has been executed in Zhejiang. The man called Lian Enqing murdered an ENT specialist in October 2014 because he was upset about the poor results of surgery on his nose.

Air pollution triggers hospital admissions

Hospital admissions for respiratory problems increase dramatically when air pollution PM2.5 particle levels exceed a threshold of 200 µg/m3 according to researchers from Shandong.
Lian Enqing was sentenced to death last year for a fatal attack on an an ear, nose and throat specialist in Wenling, in the eastern province of Zhejiang. He attacked the doctor because he "felt displeased with his nose and claimed to be suffering respiratory problems", the official news agency Xinhua said - See more at:
Lian Enqing was sentenced to death last year for a fatal attack on an an ear, nose and throat specialist in Wenling, in the eastern province of Zhejiang. He attacked the doctor because he "felt displeased with his nose and claimed to be suffering respiratory problems", the official news agency Xinhua said - See more at:

Private hospitals blocked by public hospital chief

Despite being encouraged by central, the development of private hospitals is being blocked by the all powerful managers of major public hospitals, according to an article in Caixin. Analysts say that public hospitals are effectively operating as for-profit monopoly providers and they are loathe to give up their staff or patients to private newcomers.

Health minister's book published by Elsevier

Former health minister Chen Zhu is having a book publichsed by international medical publisher Elsevier. The book entitled Healthy China 2020: Strategic Research Report, is an in-depth review of China's past present and futre healthcare developments, with contributions frm many leading healthcare figures.

China's hospital league tables published

A league table of China's best hospitals, ranked by department, has been published by the China National Medical Information Center. The ranking tables put hospitals in the three major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou at the top of most lists, according to criteria for 19 different specialities.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Multidrug resistant leprosy, Tuberculosis costs; Clinical trial problems; Milk formula mispercetions, Rheumatoid arthritis drug unavailable

Doctors in Shandong have reported China's first cases of multidrug resistant leprosy. Testing 85 samples of the causative bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, doctors found that some were resistant to  standard antibiotic treatments including dapsone, rifampin and ofloxacin.

In theory, tuberculosis treatment is free in China, but in reality patients  still face enormous out-of-pocket costs for treatment, a study from Jiangsu show. In a survey of treatment costs for people in the province, researchers from Nanjing Medical University found that the average cost per patient was as high as 19,000 yuan (US$3000). Even for patients who could claim back medical costs on their health insurance, out of pocket costs were still around 14,000 yuan ($2260) a year for clinic visits, hospital stays, tests and drug therapy.

Clinical trials are difficult to set up and run in China due to a lack of qualified and experienced clinical research staff and poor research infrastructure, an experts says. Dr Wu Yangfeng Wu of the Peking University Clinical Research Institute (PUCRI) said clinical trials required a pool of many hundreds of clinicians who were educated and well versed in basic research techniques - something which China lacked. He told Forbes that China's medical institutions also lacked  basic infrastructure and research management systems to conduct trials. There were also few allowances or rewards for doctors who took part in research, he added.

As many as one in five village doctors have latent tuberculosis, according to a study carried out in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. Dr He Guangxue and colleagues at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, surveyed 880 village doctors and found that 19.5% had positive tuberculin skin reactions. Latent tuberculosis risk was highest in doctors who had been in practice for a long time and for doctors who had more exposure to patients, they showed in PLOS One.

About 90% of Chinese mothers opt for milk formula within a month of giving birth, often driven by misguided beliefs and fears, a study from Sichuan has found. In a survey of 695 new mothers, 88% had initiated formula within 4 weeks of giving birth, often believing that babies slept better after fed with formula, and many believing they had insufficient breastmilk.

One of the best drug treatments for rheumatoid arthritis is out of reach for many Chinese patients because of cost, rheumatologists say. Chinese clinical experience with tocilizumab (Actemra) showed that it was highly effective and safe.  However, the high cost of the drug limits its prescribing in China, according to Dr Wang Geng of the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology, Changzheng Hospital, The Second Military Medical University, Shanghai.

Insurance fraud: how three doctors placed the bodies of dead cancer patients in staged traffic accidents to swindle $225,000

by Michael Woodhead
In a sophisticated and ghoulish scam, three doctors at an Anhui hospital used the bodies of recently deceased cancer patients in staged traffic accident in order to claim thousands of dollars in insurance payouts.
The doctors who worked in the intensive care unit of Lingbi Hospital were part of a gang of seven, including former insurance company employees, who used the bodies of cancer patients to swindle insurance companies out of 1.4 million yuan ($225,000) in payments for 42 fraudulent claims.
The doctors used their contacts to identify terminally ill cancer patients, who they would then arrange to have insurance policies for accidental death taken out. After they died, the doctors did not carry out the usual death certificates, but instead shipped the bodies to locations where they set up traffic accidents, often involving motorbikes or scooters. When police and emergency services arrived on the scene they would declare the victim dead due to a traffic accident, and the insurance companies would pay out on their policies.
However, authorities became suspicious when a large number of traffic accident claims were made in a short period. When they set up an investigation, they found the same three doctors - and their relatives - were involved in all the claims.
The doctors have now been arrested for insurance fraud and suspended from their positions at the Anhui Lingbi hospital.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The right and wrong way to do primary care: Shanghai vs Shenzhen

Pilot programs in primary care have been carried out in two of China's largest and wealthiest cities since 2009: they used different models and it looks like Shanghai got it right and Shenzhen got it wrong. 

The basic difference between the two models of care was that Shanghai went with a more UK/European model of having independent general practitioner-owned centres that were publicly funded via a capitation model and which were based around multidisciplinary teams. Shenzhen, by contrast, used a more conservative approach based on clinics run by existing hospitals that installed GPs in rented premises and who were given only minimal funding, and thus they had to charge patients or make revenue from commission on drug sales.

In other words, the Shenzhen system was really just using primary care practitioners in the same failed model that currently operates in China's hospitals. GPs in Shenzhen felt underfunded and they had no support staff - and this inferior quality was noticed by patients. In an evaluation of 3421 citizens carried out by health researchers from Hong Kong, it was found that the perception of primary care quality among local residents improved in Shanghai since 2009, whereas it deteriorated in Shenzhen.

What were the factors that worked for Shanghai? According to the researchers, the Shanghai model was based on public-funded primary healthcare teams that included doctors, nurses and public health specialists. They tailored their care to local needs - offering programs for chronic diseases of the elderly such as diabetes and hypertension, and also for maternal and child health.

The Shanghai funding model was partially based on capitation - in other words, the clinics received about $20 a year per patient they enrolled. Enrolment with a community health centre was a key feature of the Shanghai model, with residents offered free care if they stuck with the same clinic rather than attend tertiary hospitals for care. The Shanghai GP centres were funded by local government and could provide services and prescriptions at no cost to local people.

In contrast, the Shenzhen clinics were set up and operated by hospitals, which ran them along the same lines as other hospital departments - namely with GPs having to derive their income from fees and drug sales. This meant that many patients had to pay upfront fees - especially as about 70% of the local populace are internal migrants and their fees are not reimbursable by their hometown-based health insurance policies.

It seems that Shenzhen's primary care clinics were Cinderella services - playing second fiddle to well-funded and high prestige hospital clinics. GPs were underpaid and poorly resourced compared to their hospital counterparts. No wonder patients perceived a lack of quality in their services.

The study authors make the obvious conclusion that the Shanghai model if the better one: "The quality of primary care improved in Shanghai but not in Shenzhen. This may be because, in Shanghai, beneficial long-term relationships between patients and general practitioners were supported by capitation payments and the provision of services tailored to local health priorities."

Source: WHO Bulletin

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Drug sale reforms; Autistic children abused; Tibetan monks don't get hypertension; Guangzhou's first private clinic; Doctors stabbed in Fuzhou; Tax breaks for private health insurance

The move to stop county-level hospitals from deriving their income from 15% markups on pharmaceuticals will severely dent their revenue stream and threaten services, health economists have warned. China has already trialled  drug commission bans in 300 county hospitals and now plans to extend the system to 1000 hospitals nationally, Caixin reports. However, the plan could leave hospitals short of funds and thus reduce the level of services and hurt the morale of medical workers,  academics and doctors say. The State Council has said local governments should help hospitals to make up for the lost income from drug sales. However,Wang Zhen, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said local governments were already strained financially and they don't have extra money for hospitals.Wang said that without government subsidies and other measures in place, scrapping the markup practice might wind up creating other problems because hospitals will find alternative ways to make money.

Children with autism in China face experience high rates of physical abuse from their parents and family members, a study from Henan shows. In a survey of 180 children with autism, Zhengzhou researchers found that 36% had recently experienced severe physical maltreatment such as slapping on the face, being beaten with objects or kicked. Less severe physical maltreatment such as being slapped, or shaken was experienced by 86% of autistic children.

Tibetan monks have low rates of hypertension, according to a study carried out in Gansu. The survey of 984 monks found that 19% had hypertension, compared to 34% of the local population. However, despite having low rates of high blood pressure, there were also low rates of awareness, treatment and control of hypertension among monks, the researchers found.

Encouraged by new government policy a surgical oncologist has opened Guangzhou's first major private clinic. The clinic set up by Dr Lin Feng will offer speedy diagnosis and high quality treatment by a well known surgeon previously practicing at the renowned 3rd Hospital of Guangzhou. The clinic charges about 2-3000 yuan fees, and offers high quality diagnosis and surgery without the long waits and rushed consultations of public hospitals, its operators say.

Two doctors at a Fuzhou hospital were stabbed in an attack by a 66-year old male patient, local media report. One male and one female doctor were seriously injured by the man armed with a 40cm knife who had been attending the Fuzhou hospital to have his haemorrhoids treated. A hospital spokesman said the man was unhappy with the treatment he received for his haemorrhoids and stabbed a female doctor in the hip. The male doctor who tried to restrain him was also stabbed in the arm.

Tax breaks are to be introduced for Chinese consumers who take out private health insurance, the government has announced. People who spend more than 2,400 yuan on commercial health insurance policies per year will now only pay individual taxes on income above 3,700 yuan per month, instead of 3,500 yuan, CCTV has reported. The move is part of a government campaign to encourage Chinese people to  purchase private health policies in addition to their standard government benefits.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Personal experience of the Chinese health system

An overseas Chinese friend of mine has just come back from China, where she returned to care for her dying father. Her experience of the Chinese health system was mostly positive, but her story reveals some of the reality behind the rhetoric of recent government pronouncements on reforms.
Her father was seriously ill with lung cancer and had only a few weeks to live. After the diagnosis, at an army-affiliated hospital, the doctors did not try to offer futile chemotherapy with expensive drugs, but just offered a poor but honest prognosis. There was no access to what we in the west would call palliative care. Instead, doctors recommended that he return home, to be cared for by family members. In some pain and discomfort, the father was provided with some analgesics, but no opioids.

After about a week, the father was in considerable pain and returned to the hospital for treatment. He lived for another 18 days, being given a mixture of analgesics and other drugs to ease his bowel problems. The cost of treatment was 18,000 yuan. As he had been a member of his employer's urban health insurance plan, the father (or rather his family) was able to claim back about 70% of the medical expenses. However, the hospital treatment did not include 'extras' such as meals, dressings and bed linen! The nurses provided most of the basic medical care but none of the ancillary care such as washing, feeding and chaging bed linen that nurses in western hospitals would do. Instead this was left to the family. As the family were not able to be on 24/7 carer duty they hired a 'kanghu' carer at a cost of 800 yuan per day, to do basic chores such as feeding and cleaning the patient.

The family were satisfied with the overall level of medical care provided by the hospital, though they found it somewhat basic until they used their guanxi to find a better team of doctors and nurses. This was done because they knew someone who knew one of the senior doctors at the hospital.No money changed hands, but the father benefited form having more attention paid to his care by the more senior medical practitioner in the hospitals. After the father passed away, the family presented hongbao containing about 200 yuan to each of the 20 medical team who cared for him. This was done to maintain face and  confirm the good guangxi that was used to obtain better care for the father.
Funeral arrangements were made for the father via the hospital contacts, who no doubt gained some financial advantage from their referral.

The family believed their father received good care that was personal and respectful - but no doubt because they were able to use their connections in what was essentially a small city where everybody knew everybody.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Hypertension treatment outdated; Infants hit by Group B Streptococcal infections; Liver disease brings ruinously medical bills; Caesarean sections the norm; Li Keqiang unhappy with pace of health reforms

Treatment of high blood pressure in China is quite backward because it is exactly that - treatment of just the raised blood pressure, with no attention to other cardiovascular risk factors. Cardiologists now emphasise that it is essential to treat a person's overall cardiovascular risk, not just focus on single risk factors such as blood pressure. But a study carried out in 274 hypertensive patients in Zhejiang found that  found that 28% were still smoking, 39% drank regularly and only 21% exercised frequently. The average salt intake per day was above the national recommended level of 6g. The study also found that most patients were taking only one drug for high blood pressure, which was inadequate to control their blood pressure. Many were taking 'herbal' medicines that actually contained out of date and dangerous western antihypertensives such as reserpine. As the authors conclude: "The study revealed outdated and inadequate treatment and health education for hypertensive patients, especially for those who have high risk scores for CVD. There is a need to review the community-based guidelines for hypertension management."

In Shenzhen, researchers at the Children's Hospital have shown that invasive group B streptococcal infection is an important pathogen in infants under 90 days old, resulting in in high mortality and neurological sequelae. The streptococcal infection strains showed strong resistance to clindamycin and erythromycin.

Liver disease is an expensive condition that often sees families facing ruinous medical bills in China. A study carried out at a Kunming hospital found that the average yearly cost of medical treatment for hepatitis B was 19,496 RMB, while patients with cirrhosis faced bills of up to 46,061 RMB. While public medical insurance helped pay for some of the costs, catastrophic health expenditure occurred for families affected by all these illnesses.

China's high rate of caesarean sections will be difficult to bring down to more healthy levels, according to researchers. In a  survey of a112,138 women they found the cesarean delivery rate was 55% and as high as 66% in some regions. Two thirds of the cesarean deliveries were scheduled and performed before labour  and about 40%%  were performed without any recognised medical indications. About 57% of the caesareans were done on request of the mother.

Meanwhile, the progress of health reform is obviously too slow for the Premier Li Keqiang. This month he has called for more medical reform measures to overcome 'difficulties' in the healthcare system. In written instructions he identified problems areas that needed attention, such as hospitals should be prevented from being "financed by drug sales" He also said that more effort should be given to reform of county-level hospitals and more serious diseases needed to be covered by medical insurance. His orders came after reform measures were introduced across all county-level hospitals and are now being piloted in 100 city-level hospitals.