Medical staff take care of an elderly patient at a hospice care ward in Tianjin. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Third batch of pilot programs rolled out to better serve the terminally ill
To fulfill the wish of a terminally ill patient surnamed Wang — who had dreamed of traveling to Chengdu, Sichuan province, and having drinks while chilling and listening to music at a local bistro — medical workers at a hospital in Beijing set up a projector broadcasting street views of the city famous for its relaxing vibe and played a namesake folk song for her.
The scene that played out around a year ago at Beijing Haidian Hospital's palliative care center has epitomized the facility's goal to "provide end-of-life care in a way that patients would wish for "and to "inject a sense of liveliness into the wards", said Zhang Fuchun, president of the hospital.
From the time that the hospice care center was set up in 2017 until April this year, it increased the number of beds from six to 50 and received nearly 700 terminally ill patients, said Zhang during a recent news conference.
Haidian district in Beijing was one of the first regions tasked by the National Health Commission to pilot hospice care in 2017.
Last week, the commission announced a third batch of pilot programs, saying such programs now cover 185 prefectural regions across the country.
It requires that each pilot region have at least one palliative ward by 2025, and community or rural clinics are encouraged to set up their own hospice care wards.
"After six years' work, China has basically set up a hospice care system that combines hospitals, community-level or home-based services, facilities that integrate medical and elderly care services, and remote services," the Chinese Association for Life Care said in late May.
Officials and experts said that the next step is to improve the pricing mechanism and payment methods for palliative care services, accelerate the formulation of rules and standards in the field of hospice care, and cultivate more palliative care workers.
"More efforts can be made to include services provided by institutions or home-based care into basic medical insurance or long-term elderly care insurance programs," the NHC said.
Qi Xinjie, an official at the commission's aging and health department, said that China is aiming to train at least 5,000 hospice care professionals from 2021 to 2025.Since 2021, around 2,000 medical workers have been trained in this field.
He added that the commission has drafted several trial regulations and protocols on palliative care and is researching the outcomes of pilot programs, focusing on key issues such as eligibility criteria and assessment procedures for elderly hospice care.
Liu Qian, a professor at Renmin University of China's School of Sociology and Population Studies, said that while motivating hospitals to start offering hospice care is a trait of the sector's development in China, it is also important to explore how to incorporate social and for-profit organizations into the industry to meet public demand.
She also stressed the need to figure out pricing strategies for the service and to find ways to retain talent.
"We have launched training sessions among medical workers, but so far, there is no such discipline as palliative care, so the work is mostly carried out by doctors specializing in other fields such as geriatric medicine, oncology, traditional Chinese medicine or general physicians," she said.
"The next step does not necessarily need to include expanding coverage of pilot programs. More emphasis should be attached to asking trial regions to improve their evaluation and pricing regulations."