Pilot project aims to bring medical care to growing population of elderly citizens
A pilot project in several large cities and provinces will allow seniors who need medical care to request home nursing services through the internet.
The service is likely to develop quickly to meet the huge demand from China's rapidly aging population, according to a plan released by the country's top health authority.
Certified medical institutions in six municipalities and provinces covered by the pilot program, including Beijing, Shanghai and Zhejiang province, have a higher population density, and greater proportion of people 60 years or older, the National Health Commission said.
Nurses taking part in the program must have at least five years of clinical experience, and data gathered should be safely stored and be accessible to supervisory authorities.
Services covered by the program should be in high demand and easy to perform outside medical institutions, it said. Institutions can develop their own online platforms.
The pilot program will end in December. Based on experience from the program, the commission will improve existing policies to better meet people's diverse health demands, it said.
About 150 million people in China aged 60 or above have chronic diseases, accounting for 65 percent of the age group. They include about 40 million with partial or complete disability, according to the National Health Commission.
Zhang Xiaoli, a bank employee in Beijing, said she has heard about the nursing services and thinks they can prevent patients and their families from having to line up at hospitals.
"I think it is also good news for young people with elderly parents to take care of," she said. "But there should be regulations to ensure the services provided at home are of the same quality as services provided at hospitals or clinics."
Liu Zhiwen, director of Xiguan Community Health Center in Beijing's Changping district, said it has been providing home services for nearby residents for many years, but has not tried to dispatch nurses via mobile phone apps.
"The demand for home services, such as transfusions, is very big here and in neighboring communities, especially among the elderly and disabled," he said. "But we only have a few nurses who are constantly occupied, and we can only send them to the homes of residents who are most in need, such as those who can't move."
Safety is also a top concern for such services, he said.
"All the nurses in the health center are female," he said. "I or another male doctor will always accompany a nurse when she goes to a patient's home for the first time to make sure the nurse will be able to provide services in safety."
Another problem that needs to be solved is the cost. Unlike services at hospitals or clinics, patients have to pay all the expenses incurred during home services, as such fees are not covered by basic medical insurance, he said.
Jiao Yahui, deputy chief for medical administration and supervision at the National Health Commission, said the pilot program is focused on the needs of the elderly.
China has only about 3.8 million professional nurses－not enough to meet demand－but giving them freedom to provide services outside hospitals and clinics through internet platforms can encourage them to provide more services to better meet the demand from elderly patients, she said.
"There are only a limited number of home services, such as transfusions or treatment for skin ulcers," Jiao said. "More sophisticated and risky medical services must be conducted at medical institutions."