Elderly willing to shell out for quality care

Updated: 2012-09-18 11:02

By Liu Jie (China Daily)

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Housed in the peaceful, leafy surroundings of a classic three-story European-style building in the center of Shanghai, the WA Optimum Health Care Center has been in operation for a year and a half.

The business targets a growing market: wealthy, aging Chinese, who in the words of Derek Muhs, the vice-chairman of its parent Regenerative Medicine Group, are "high-net worth individuals" who are willing to spend what it takes to make life as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

As well as numerous anti-aging treatments, its services also include those for diabetes, liver health, joint rejuvenation and pain management, for instance.

It's the type of high-end medical care that will become increasingly popular in China as the population continues to age, said Liu Shuchang, an analyst at Changjiang Securities.

"The first batch of China's billionaires are now generally over 60, while the younger rich are also willing to spend more money looking after their parents and even their grandparents."

WA Optimum has an international team of 30 doctors from China, the United States, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and South Korea.

It also partners with the University of Southern California to provide patients access to its extensive medical specialist team.

"Doctors provide a personal service - they deal with the root of any problem you might have, and don't just identify the symptoms," said Muhs, from Canada.

A typical one-off doctor's consultation costs between 750 yuan ($118) and 1,500 yuan. But many clients take advantage of financial packages, arranged through commercial insurance companies, where subscriptions or membership can cost between 25,000 yuan and 500,000 yuan, allowing patients access to any number of visiting doctors, for instance, and other specialist treatments.

Muhs said most healthcare businesses don't make money for the first three years.

"It took us about seven months to get going, but now we are growing our monthly revenues by about 15 percent," he added.

The company plans to open a new facility soon in the Fragrant Hills in Beijing, larger than its Shanghai operation and with specialist departments looking at ovarian rejuvenation and liver health.

Two other sites are expected in Chengdu next year and Shenzhen in 2014. And it will also be announcing plans for specialist elderly nursing houses across China in 2013 and have secured plots of land in prime locations.

"Done right, nursing homes or assisted living homes can be beautiful, cheerful and efficient facilities, that are comfortable for both residents and visitors," said Muhs.

Their focus - as with its healthcare centers - would be providing warm, personal care for individuals, to not just extend life, but also improve the quality of life.

According to a population census conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics on Nov 1, 2010, China had a population of 1.34 billion, 13.26 percent of which was older than 60 years old.

The bureau estimates this aging proportion will grow by eight million a year during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period, from 4.8 million in the previous five years.

The China Research Center on Aging suggests that the annual spending power of that older generation is now 700 billion yuan, and that will increase to 1 trillion yuan by 2015.

Not-surprisingly, the growing wealth of China's elderly is attracting considerable local investment interest, as well as that from foreign organizations.

Beijing-based eHealthcare Co Ltd, for instance, is a specialized provider of high-end health management and consulting services for elderly patients.

"We are a third-party health services provider focusing on disease prevention, chronic illness management and healthy lifestyles, and act as a bridge between medical institutions and customers," said Song Haifeng, the founder and general manager.

Like WA, the company also operates a subscription system for its clients.

For general clients without serious illness, that ranges from 35,000 yuan to 60,000 yuan a year.

Family membership, covering three family members, costs between 75,000 yuan and 150,000 yuan.

Its services include yearly medical examinations, a general health diagnosis every quarter, health improvement suggestions from senior medical experts and dieticians, and the services of other top clinical treatment intermediaries.

It also offers other premium services which can see traditional Chinese medicine and Western practitioners providing quarterly diagnoses and customized health improvement schemes for customers.

Song, who had worked in a health check-up company for five years before starting out on his own in 2008, said that if illness is detected, the institute will also help patients find the treatment they need at leading local hospitals.

"Although our customers have money, they have little access to the best medical help; so we can help them with that."

He said eHealthcare's membership has increased by 30 to 50 percent annually, with sales growing about 80 percent.

"Our network now covers 10 key cities around China, and the chain will be expanding in cooperation with a premium property developer," he added.

Liu from Changjiang Securities says that the growing and diversifying demands of the Chinese population present great opportunities for these types of high-end institutions.

However, as the standards of some industry operators are still to reach international levels, patients should be cautious about which firms they chose.

"Check the qualifications of these high-end service providers first before you sign up," he said.