Here’s what used to happen when you get sick in China:

You go to a public hospital to make an appointment, known as guahao (挂号). If the hospital is busy, which it usually is, you could be waiting in line for half a day. After guahao, you need to pay the consultation fee in another line. Only then can you see a doctor. After diagnosis, you get your prescription and line up again to pay for it. Then you wait in hopefully the last line to pick up your medication… if you’re still standing or have someone helping you.

This type of situation stems from the various issues plaguing the Chinese healthcare system. Its primary care system is underused due to the poor distribution of resources and lack of quality general practitioners, leaving hospitals to bear the brunt of treating patients. China also doesn’t have enough doctors: While the OECD average is 3.19 doctors for every 1,000 people, China only has 2.22 doctors and assisting physicians for every 1,000 people. The government began healthcare reform in 2009, but results have been mixed.

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Linda Lew

Linda Lew is a Beijing-based journalist who covers technology, start-ups and business in China. You can reach her at lindalew at aliyun dot com.