Most foreigners in China don’t come here with real expat packages, and Western medical care can quickly get expensive. While a trip to a Chinese hospital can be a lot cheaper, it’s definitely not easier. We recommend bringing a local friend, even if you speak Chinese well. Here are some tips on navigating Chinese hospitals. With luck, you’ll never have to use these, but it’s always good to be prepared.
There are two counters in Chinese hospitals, one for general admittance and one for emergencies. General registration usually takes place in the arrival hall: just fill in your name, date of birth and phone number. They’ll charge you RMB5-8, and direct you where to go if you tell them which department you're looking for. Grab a number and wait. Some doctors speak some English, and if not, they can usually write it. Some hospitals in Guangzhou have VIP service. For example, at Zhongshan Yiyuan, one of the top Chinese hospitals in Guangzhou, you can choose the VIP area. For a registration fee of RMB100, you don’t need to wait or queue up.
In the Chinese system, you always pay before proceeding to the next step. Since Chinese hospitals are always very crowded, this means you might have to queue a few times. For example, if the doctor asks you to get your blood tested, you have to go wait to pay, then go to a certain place for the test. When the doctor gets the results, they may ask you to do another test. If you need medication, you’ll again have to pay for your medicine before getting it at another counter. Make sure to bring cash—some hospitals don’t accept credit cards.
Beyond the waiting lines and general chaos, the “patient experience” is not, generally speaking, a consideration in Chinese hospitals. For example, in China, anesthetic is not used when performing endoscopies, and China has one of the highest rates of IV prescription. If you go to the hospital, you will probably be prescribed one. While this isn’t necessarily considered to be good practice, it’s probably worth accepting their treatment if you’re really sick. One thing to watch for: if they try to use a needle that you did not personally see them remove from its packaging, ask for a new one.
Even though the hospital may look awful, you can probably trust your doctor, especially for treatments like an infection, vomiting or diarrhea. Since these are common diseases, your doctor has probably seen them hundreds of times. That being said, it is best to go to top-level hospitals if possible. We recommend Zhongshan Yiyuan.
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