Tomorrow morning, I’ve got to make a trip down to Fudan University’s Eye Ear Nose & Throat Hospital (EENT) to book an appointment with a retinal specialist. I’ve had problems with my retinas since I was 16 and need to go for regular eye checks – I’ve found the EENT hospital provides the best service. But I never like going there. Not because I have any fear of hospitals, but because the mass of people I always find waiting with me makes it an awful experience. And this isn’t just due to the fact that it’s a specialized hospital. Long waiting lines are an experience repeated all over China.
People will regularly line up at 2 or 3 a.m. to be the first in line to see a doctor when examinations begin at 9:00 each morning. For those that can’t get out there that early, there are scalpers who stand in line and sell their place to the highest bidder.
If that doesn’t show that medical services are in demand, I don’t know what will. Beijing has said part of its US$124 billion health care reform package will have a component on hospital restructuring, but nowhere in the proposals has there been much talk of a time-definite appointment system. There is an appointment system in place, and I am going tomorrow to take advantage of it, but all you can do is request the specific doctor you want and receive an appointment within the next two weeks. You don’t get to choose the date, you’re simply told to show up.
Needing to drop everything for a medical appointment that can’t be planned is a bit of an annoyance and it’s one of the reasons many people wait until they have a major health problem before they visit the doctor (the other being cost). That has a cascading effect in the health care system because it means that many of the patients doctors see may have major medical problems, but doctors don’t have time to properly examine them. You’ll often only get 10 minutes with a doctor, and there may be three or four other patients and their families waiting in the room with you.
A clearer appointment system would help to get patients in hospitals before their medical ailments become serious. It would have the added benefit of keeping waiting rooms less crowded: People would arrive closer to their designated appointment times, making everyone’s hospital experience that much better.