Monday, 18 May 2015

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


by MICHAEL WOODHEAD
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

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