Trying to find information about China's health care system (without a VPN, at least), is confirmation of how much media the Communists control over here. I had several issues accessing a South China Morning Post article online entitled "Patient ratio too high, say doctors". After five tries, all I'd managed to see was that Hong Kong has one of the highest doctor-patient ratios in the developed world. Then the site would boot me off.
I did find a website (www.gulfmed.com) that stated these doctor-patient ratios:
1: 950 China
1: 390 U.S.
1: 170 Cuba
Yes, Cuba--that home of the Bay of Pigs and Castro--has the lowest doctor-patient ratio in the world, according to socialmedicine.org and bigthink.org.
If you've seen Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko", you already know about Cuba, so I won't go into details.
And according to asianresearch.org and the World Health Organization (WHO), China ranks lower than Iraq for medical care.
I had a small class of four students the other day, one of whom is a doctor. When the doctor said he sees 200 patients a day, I guffawed. Surely he was joking. But his normally jolly face was serious, and the other three students confirmed it. There are a handful of articles online that confirm 100-200 patients per day being the norm in China. When I told my mother this, she did some quick calculations. "That's like 2 or 3 minutes per patient." And we complain in the U.S. if we see the doc for 15! Of course, I still think 15 isn't enough time, especially if you have some serious issue(s) to discuss, but after speaking to my students, 15 minutes seems positively luxurious.
A friend of mine who recently had knee surgery here confirmed this also. Her first diagnosis came from a harried Chinese doctor who told her in under five minutes that she would need surgery--with just a glance at her x-ray and a tap or two of her knee. When friends urged her to get a second opinion, she did--at the expensive foreigner hospital, paying triple the price. Interestingly, the diagnosis was the same: "You need surgery"--but the doctor--a Chinese woman--took about 10 minutes with a model knee to show my friend exactly what the issue was. Eight extra minutes for peace of mind, but you must pay triple for those 8 minutes. That's how serious--and expensive--the situation is here. My friend teaches at an international school, and had purchased her own private medical insurance to cover the surgery.
Next month our healthcare over here is changing. Rather than one option, EF English First (the company I work for) is now offering three: a low-priced, a mid-priced, and a premium. One of my co-workers, an American with stomach issues, has already chosen the premium. With the regular low-priced insurance, it had taken him weeks to straighten out a claim the last time he went to a doctor--sometimes relying on our Chinese co-workers in the office to interpret over the phone. Because his stomach problems are chronic, this man isn't taking any chances.
I'm debating: it's a draw between the mid-priced and the premium for me. On the one hand, I've only been to the doctor once in the 18 months I've been here, at the expensive foreigner hospital. Then, when I had the flu last winter, my boss at the time generously allowed me to stay home and rest until I was well. My current boss has different policies. That is to say, he has no bedside manner and no sympathy. A co-worker, recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, was told by our current boss that she had to stay at work when she was painfully ill. When he wasn't looking, another co-worker sent her home and took over her class.
The Celiac co-worker has a friend who was recently involved in an accident. She was sandwiched between a taxi and a scooter. Foreign employees of EF currently have emergency insurance for just this kind of thing.
Due to the Chinese system, however, this poor woman was required to straighten everything out with the police and the insurance companies BEFORE she received surgery to fix her broken arm--two and a half weeks later. AND no pain meds, either. Knowing China, and knowing my tolerance for crap like this, my response would've been "Who do I have to bribe around here to get some morphine? Huh?" In China, bribery often works. No matter how often people say it's against the law, the majority of people do it, and few people get caught. I could see myself saying, "Come on, I'll give you 100 RMB for a Tylenol, just give me something!" Now that I'm counting down the last six months of my contract, I could just see myself having some kind of accident if I choose the low-price insurance.
My friend with the knee surgery and the young woman who'd been in the accident are both foreigners, with medical insurance. I'm not sure what the insurance situation is for Joe Q. Shanghai Resident, but I'm guessing it's worse--a lot worse. Without the status of being a foreigner, and without the money that often comes with it, the average Chinese person probably waits hours to see a doctor, who makes a one-minute diagnosis before sending him or her on their way.
I know the healthcare scenario in my own country is kind of a mess these days, but it seems like heaven in comparison.