Thursday, March 25, 2010

Heart-Pounding Health Care

Almost two weeks ago, one of my foreign colleagues, an Indian man in his late 50s, checked into Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Wangfujing complaining of chest pains.

It turned out he had a heart attack and after further tests and examinations, it was found that three of his arteries were blocked, one of them for a long time. The doctors suggested he add stents in his arteries. However, when the doctors performed the procedure, what they originally thought were only 2mm stents needed turned out to be 9mm and the operation took longer than expected so only one artery was opened up.

One of my colleagues went to visit him on the weekend. Most locals consider Peking Union one of the best hospitals in Beijing, but it seemed to be dreary and dirty, as the washrooms had no soap and there was lots of dust in the hallways. Also, the cardiac unit only allowed one visitor per patient. This was reinforced by only giving one pair of slippers to the visitor who had to remove his shoes at the entrance of the unit. My friend asked why this was the policy, but got no better explanation from the nurse than that it would avoid exciting the patient too much. Right.

Nevertheless, he seemed in good spirits and was resting in order to prepare for the second operation, assuming the health insurance company would work things out with the hospital.

It turns out not.

Although he has already paid some 30,000RMB ($4,393) up until now, he must pay 200,000RMB ($29,290) for the second procedure, or at least 100,000RMB up front.

Otherwise the doctor isn't rolling you into the operation room.

While $29,000 is probably relatively inexpensive for a heart procedure, it's a lot of money for people in China to have in their bank accounts, let alone most foreigners here who don't earn that much money. 

The situation makes one quickly realize why there is no domestic consumption in China beyond what average people really need -- because they may need to pay for a 200,000 RMB procedure one day and must save every cent, or mao and jiao for it.

It is also a stark reminder not to ever get seriously sick in China -- a great motivator to exercise regularly and eat right -- and definitely be careful crossing the street.

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