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Private hospital charts new path

2014-06-05 09:41 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan
Doctors prep for the institution's first surgery.

Doctors prep for the institution's first surgery.

It was probably a breakthrough in the traditional method of doctor consultation in China when a group of medical experts gathered in a clinic room at Shanghai International Medical Center (SIMC) on May 28, the day the facility announced its official opening.

These doctors came from different departments including infection, hematology, gynecology and obstetrics, radiology and pathology. The topic of their discussion was a 30-year-old HBV-positive patient, who learned she had an abnormally high level of platelets as she prepared for pregnancy.

The multidisciplinary service is a new try at the newly opened international hospital. Doctors from different departments can access a patient's clinical data at the same time. It is widely believed that such a panel discussion enables doctors to come up with an individualized and appropriate treatment plan that guarantees better effects. In the past, however, the patient would have needed to visit these departments one by one on her own.

"In the past, many patients traveled all the way to Shanghai only to find it was incredibly difficult to make appointments with doctors from different departments and hospitals. With the multidisciplinary service available at SIMC, things will become much easier," said Miao Xiaohui, who is in charge of hospital administration at SIMC.

Other than this practice, the new medical center in Pudong New Area sees more fresh attempts as its operator hopes to fundamentally change the medical industry in Shanghai.

Before it officially opened, SIMC had undertook a two-month trial run. It is the first international private general hospital in China funded by social capital. The center covers some 70,000 square meters and has 500 beds, 118 outpatient consultation rooms and 15 operating rooms. The facility, which is located in remote Pudong, made its voice heard upon its soft opening when people began to discuss its registration fees set at up to 1,200 yuan ($191).

The center sees its registration charges ranging from 300 yuan to 1,200 yuan. The fees were applauded by some private hospital operators, saying these are appropriate prices for a meeting with the city's quality doctors. SIMC's director, Zhang Chengyu, agreed and he told the Global Times that when setting the charges, the center is trying to implement a concept - to support doctors with their professional skills instead of the medicines or lab tests they prescribe.

"It's not the charges we set that matter. The key is if anyone will still choose a doctor's services at that price," he said.

Zhang believes the value of quality doctors needs to be better recognized. "What is behind the training of a good doctor is cost accumulation," he said. "It might cost someone 1,000 yuan for a 10-minute meeting with a doctor. But you cannot imagine how much time the doctor has spent accumulating the qualifications to give you this diagnosis within 10 minutes."

At SIMC, one strictly enforced rule is that physicians must spend no less than 15 minutes with each patient and are not allowed to see more than 30 patients a day. At the same time, the proportion of hospital income attributed to drugs sales cannot exceed 8 percent of the total cost. The income of doctors is derived from the consultation, attendance, diagnosis and treatment they have provided, rather than from kickbacks on medication and lab tests. It is believed that under these rules, physicians are paid reasonably for their work and can practice in a dignified manner to save lives and heal the sick.

Zhang said that Chinese doctors also wish to lead a decent life and win the same respect that their overseas counterparts have. "Look, four of our doctors are having a coffee break there," Zhang said in the center's café. "I don't believe they could have done this in a public hospital. Besides, Chinese doctors don't want to shoulder excessive social responsibilities. The difficulty in accessing medical resources is not their fault."

Without long lines of waiting patients pushing them to speed up every consultation and diagnosis, Pei Bin, a doctor at SIMC, said that the tension between doctors and patients has been eliminated. "With sufficient communication, a doctor can get full understanding of a patient's condition. We might become their family doctors, offering them regular telephone consultations, and they could be our patients for a very long time," Pei told the Global Times.

The new international hospital is also making the quality doctor resources at the city's public hospitals more accessible. On SIMC's website, the consultation hours of 52 leading doctors from eight tier-three hospitals in Shanghai have been listed. According to the center, more than 100 public hospital doctors will regularly see patients by appointment at the center.

The local health authority is trying to standardize the practice of public hospital doctors performing at multiple locations with the new center as its testing ground. Such a practice has been in the gray zone for a while.

"Unlike Western countries where the training systems for doctors are quite complete and therefore there is no major difference in terms of professional skills among doctors, Chinese doctors from different regions and hospitals differ a lot in this aspect. Bringing this multi-location practice onto the normal track will be eventually conducive to the overall improvement of medical services in the city as skilled doctors can be accessed in more locations and people don't have to pour into these limited tier-three hospitals for consultation," said Huang Yiren, deputy director of Renji Hospital, who was also the first public hospital doctor to see a patient at SIMC.

In addition to these leading doctors from Shanghai's public hospitals who will regularly receive patients at SIMC, the center offers a special service - a patient can name the doctor he or she wishes to visit and even if he or she is not on the list of visiting doctors to SIMC, the center will help to reach the doctor and establish a consultation.

In its trial operation over the past two months, SIMC received around 10 patients every week through appointments.

The hospital mainly targets the city's expats and wealthy residents. But Zhang said mid-level office workers who can afford to purchase commercial medical insurance would also be their target clients. So far, 35 insurance companies occupying 70 percent of the local market have reached deals with SIMC.

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