Shanghai has the most advanced medical facilities in all of China. Most high-end hotels have an in-house or on-call doctor and always refer guests to dentists and doctors. There are at least a million expats in Shanghai – therefore, the local hospitals and certainly the Western hospitals are used to treating foreign patients.
From an expatriate point of view, Shanghai’s healthcare system can be divided into three broad categories: Foreign-managed, joint-venture facilities with expatriate physicians, foreigners’ or VIP units in local hospitals (which usually offer English-speaking physicians), and the standard local healthcare system.
Foreign-Managed, Joint-Venture Facilities with Expatriate Physicians
These facilities adhere to global standards, offering medical care at the standards expats would expect in their home countries. Fees for foreign-managed medical facilities in Shanghai are similar to those in Beijing and other large Asian cities: a typical doctor’s consultation will cost about US$80 to $150. These healthcare providers can often bill top global private health insurance companies directly. Expats should check with their health insurer for details. Some foreign- managed healthcare providers also offer discounts as part of a package of services to those who join as members of the facility.
Local Hospitals with Foreigners VIP Units
Several local hospitals have foreigners’ or VIP units that typically offer higher standards than average Chinese hospitals, and are usually staffed with English-speaking local physicians. Prices in these facilities for a standard medical consultation range from US$40 to $70. The most well-known of these are: Guangci, which also has a French-speaking physician; Huashan Hospital; International Peace Maternity Child Health Hospital, which has a partnership with Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. for consultation and training; and the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center, a teaching hospital in cooperation with the international group Project HOPE.
There are other options as well; but the less famous VIP units may vary widely on how well they meet expats’ expectations for sanitation and healthcare standards. Payment policies vary too: keep in mind that if admission to a Chinese hospital is required, patients often have to pay an advance deposit of at least RMB 10,000. You should visit in advance, and choose the facility you plan to use BEFORE you get sick.
Beyond safety issues and payment differences, expats may run into cultural issues with Chinese-run healthcare providers. Chinese people traditionally are not active participants in healthcare, preferring to “leave it to the experts,” so many Chinese doctors are uncomfortable with talkative, questioning patients. You may need to be more proactive than you are used to in asking questions about diagnosis and treatment when seeing a Chinese physician, and you may need to finesse questions somewhat to get the answers you want. In addition, Chinese hospitals are often reluctant to release patient medical records, which foreign patients often want to give to physicians back home.
Finally, the style of medicine practiced is also often different from what foreigners are used to, based on local cultural preference for fairly aggressive treatment. Chinese physicians may prescribe an IV drip for a complaint as mild as an elevated temperature, for example, and antibiotics are often given for colds. Local hospitals are also often eager to use their pricey new equipment, performing, for example, CAT-scans on patients where a foreign physician would not. Yet in one area, at least, Chinese physicians tend to treat less aggressively than foreigners are used to, perhaps — Chinese doctors tend to prescribe painkillers far more sparingly than many foreigners are used to.
Local Healthcare System
Finally, there is the standard local healthcare system, where a visit to the doctor in a district hospital (the lowest level) will set you back about 100 RMB. In the best hospitals, the cost of a general consultation “skyrockets” to 200 RMB. There have been instances where foreigners have been refused treatment at purely local hospitals, referred instead to the hospital’s foreigners’ unit. But some expats do use local hospitals as their primary healthcare providers, finding the standard perfectly adequate for day-to-day care, and the low cost irresistible.
Local hospital personnel rarely speak English, so foreigners who use them must either speak fluent Mandarin or bring a friend to translate. In addition to the cultural differences noted above, local hospitals are also known for long lines, lack of freedom to choose physicians (patients often must see the first available doctor, even for follow-up visits), and pre-payment for all services (before the consultation, again before the x-ray, again before the lab test, and again before the pharmacy).
Information And Support
- Lifeline Shanghai
This helpline is available everyday from 10am – 10pm and is open to anyone who needs someone to listen. Lifeline Shanghai listens to callers’ needs and challenges and assists by providing information and emotional support. This is a helpline that anyone can call, at anytime.
Visit http://www.lifelineshanghai.com or call 021-6279 8990.