China, socialized medicine, and me

Hundreds of people wait to register to see a doctor in Guangzhou, China.

By Christopher Harper

If you want to see what socialized medicine looks like, China is a classic example—a system unable to meet the needs of many patients in normal times that crashes into chaos when a crisis occurs like a coronavirus.

During my travels throughout China over the past five years, I was able to see the system up close and personal. See https://datechguyblog.com/2018/06/05/healthcare-in-china/

While the wealthy can pay for the best care with foreign doctors, most people are relegated to overcrowded hospitals. In the countryside, residents must rely on village clinics or travel hundreds of miles to find the closest facility.

The country does not have a functioning primary care system. China has one general practitioner for roughly every 7,000 people, compared with the international standard of one for every 1,500 to 2,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Another major issue, particularly in a crisis like a coronavirus, is the system for handling patients at hospitals, which often is the place where most people go for treatment.

When I went to a hospital in Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China in the southern part of the country, I registered to see a doctor and waited for one hour to see a physician to diagnose a persistent cough.

I sat in a large waiting room to see the doctor—where you can get sick from some of the other 60 to 70 people with a variety of illnesses.

The doctor seemed competent during my five-minute visit, but I then had to go for tests, waiting for another two hours with 50 other people because the hospital closes for lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

It took only a few minutes to get the results of an EKG, but the blood tests came after two hours.

I then saw another physician—in my case, another hour of waiting—before receiving three prescriptions to soothe my chest cough. It took another 30 minutes to have the prescription filled. Again, those waiting for prescriptions amounted to roughly 100 people.

By the time I was done, I’d been around hundreds of people, with a variety of diseases that I could have gotten, and they were exposed to my illness.

All I had was a chest cold and needed a prescription for some medicine. A visit, which would have taken me 15 to 30 minutes with my family doctor in the United States, took more than six hours in China.

But there’s more. At the time I was getting my chest cold diagnosed, hundreds of thousands of children were found to have been injected with faulty vaccines, amplifying the already existing frustration with the health care system.

In recent years, scandals have erupted over bribes to physicians from those who could afford to pay to move to the front of the line for critical treatments.

In my experience in China and elsewhere, socialized medicine may be adequate as long as there is no serious health threat.

Here’s what every voter should ask a Democrat candidate for president: Would you prefer socialized medicine fighting the coronavirus or the current system that exists in the United States? For me, the choice is pretty simple.

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