How are international hospitals different from local hospitals in China?

Shanghai Living

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No one wants to have to pay a visit to the hospital, especially here in China, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Luckily, Shanghai is home to many high-quality international hospitals that families can choose from. These international hospitals tend to be higher in cost, but offer services and quality of care that are comparable to Western hospitals.

According to Dr Peggy Lu, Family Medical Physician at Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics, the biggest differences between local hospitals, VIP clinics, and international hospitals are access to care, customer service, and cost. “International hospitals offer more personalized care and involve the patients in the decision making process for the best treatment outcome. Patients can make appointments by phone or email, and doctors usually spend 20-30 minutes on each consultation,” she says.

Some of the benefits of going to an international hospital include the convenience of being able to book ahead, request a specific doctor, and use your international health insurance, with direct billing being available for many global insurance companies. Language also is not an issue as there are doctors from many different countries working at international hospitals. These hospitals normally offer translation services as well.

Doctors that are chosen to work at these hospitals are stringently vetted as the hospitals want to make sure all their credentials, background and experience are up to the standards that they require.

What kind of medical services are provided?

International hospitals are varied in the types of medical services they can offer. In Shanghai, international hospitals can provide many services, and often ensure that patients are treated with personalized, warm care. Some international facilities provide trauma care, more acute level inpatient services, and cardiac care. Large public care hospitals offer a broad range of these services. VIP clinics connected to these hospitals are able to transfer care internally.

However, international hospitals in China normally partner with larger local hospitals, such as Huashan Hospital, Ruijin Hospital and Zhongshan Hospital, where they can direct patients who need specialized help – this is called a green channel. If a patient at an international hospital needs specialized care, he or she is sent for treatment to a local hospital for treatment through this green channel. They can bypass tedious processes and be lead through the system directly to the right person/team that can help them.

What do international hospitals cost?

Local public hospitals are by far the cheapest among the three options, where seeing a doctor can cost as little as ¥30. However, the doctors will probably not be able to speak English, and you won’t be able to make an appointment or use your international health insurance.

VIP clinics, which are normally connected to public hospitals, tend to be anywhere from eight to 10 times more expensive, but normally have English-speaking doctors, accept appointments, are generally cleaner, and now most even accept international health insurance. International hospitals are normally 30 to 50 percent higher than services at VIP clinics. The prices may be steep but with direct billing with many different international insurance companies and a variety of packages for payment plans (i.e. maternity and orthodontics), making payments doesn’t have to be an issue.

Do international hospitals have their own ambulances?

Hospitals, local or international, do not own or operate their own ambulances; the government owns and operates all of them. “Unlike most Western countries, ambulance service in Shanghai is provided by the Shanghai Emergency Medical Response Center,” says Dr Lu. “Under supervision of the Shanghai Health Bureau, it is unlikely that the ambulance operators will speak English.”

The ambulance will also take you to the nearest public hospital unless specified. So if you wish to go to another hospital, it’s best to have the name and address of your preferred hospital on hand. If you have any medical problems or are on any medications, you should have these written down on a card in Chinese, as well. Ambulances require payment upon service, so it’s always useful to have some spare cash stashed away in case an emergency arises. A recommended ¥10,000 in an emergency fund at home is a safe cushion, as the ambulance ride alone can be several thousand renminbi.

In China, the central number you can call for an ambulance is 120. Each district in Shanghai has at least one ambulance depot, but can have more depending on the size of the district.

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