Seeing a doctor in China
A simple guide on how to go to the doctor in China
While getting sick on a trip may be the least expected or desired experience of your life, it is a possibility that has to be taken into account while planning a trip to Asian countries where food poisoning and infectious diseases are very common. But even just a sprained ankle is a good enough reason to visit a local hospital while you’re on vacation, so here is a step by step guide (that you hopefully won’t need) on how to go to the doctor in China. For a more general article on the topic of seeing a doctor abroad, we highly recommend an article by Sundried Icicles .
- Choosing the hospital
Depending on your health conditions, you may want to go to the hospital or visit a specialist. In case of a medical emergency, you can dial 120 and call an ambulance. China’s healthcare system consists of both public and private institutions. Most Chinese cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, have modern hospitals with high-standard facilities to treat most illnesses and injuries properly and efficiently. Public Chinese hospitals are not free but rather inexpensive compared to Western standards; simple treatments are quite affordable. In smaller towns, however, healthcare standards may be lower, so travellers with health issues should keep this in mind when planning a trip to China. Be sure to consult with your physician before your trip and keep an emergency list with contacts and addresses of hospitals and pharmacies on your itinerary – just in case. In fact a little research in advance is a wise time investment that might spare you a huge amount of stress during your trip.
The biggest problem when seeing a doctor in a Chinese medical facility is, of course, the language barrier. In public hospitals, some doctors may speak a little English, but most of the staff and nurses won’t speak any English, so it may be a good idea to have a Chinese friend or guide with you. In big cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, there are private international hospitals that can serve foreigners. They offer services in English with facilities up to international standards, but the fees are a bit higher, although still affordable. Travel insurance is still recommended though, just in case you’re a really pessimistic (or cautious) person.
Most hospitals have appointment booking services through a hotline or online platforms. When in doubt just ask your local tourist guide or the hotel staff for recommendations. If you can speak Chinese, you may even book an appointment on apps like WeMedical (Weiyi) or WeChat.
After arriving at the hospital, you should first register as a patient (guahao) at the admission desk and pay an admission fee (or medical ticket). Remember to bring your passport. If you haven’t been to the clinic before, you will get a hospital card (binglika), which you will need for future visits.
- Seeing the doctor
Once your ticket number is called, you will enter a consultation room to see the doctor. There is a general lack of privacy in Chinese hospitals; in some public hospitals, there are no separate waiting areas and consultations rooms, so you may need to go behind a curtain to get undressed.
- Medicine and fees
After the doctor gives you a prescription (chufang), you need to pay the fee and pick up the medicine from the hospital pharmacy (yaofang). A hospital pharmacy is usually located in the lobby of the building.
- Further tests and fees
The doctor may prescribe further tests if he suspects more serious problems. The patient can then go to the section where the examinations are carried out after you pay for the examination and show your receipt. Examinations are always paid for in advance, so keep your receipts. If the examination results come back quickly, you can consult the original doctor without waiting in line. Otherwise, you have to come back another day and register again.
Fees at international hospitals are usually higher than the fees at local hospitals, but for foreigners it’s easier to get an appointment at international hospitals because they don’t require a Chinese ID card.
- Hospitalisation or surgery
If hospitalisation and/or surgery is required, the doctor will check when a bed and surgery are available. This is when travel insurance might come in handy, or you will have to pay all the potential bills yourself.
Hopefully, this guide gave you a little more confidence in planning your trip to a diverse and sometimes overwhelming country like China. Have a nice and safe trip!