Foreign patients treated like natives, all the way to the bill

Updated: 2013-12-27 00:21

By Wang Qingyun (China Daily)

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Foreign patients treated like natives, all the way to the bill

A group of psychiatry experts from the US state of Arizona visit Sanlitun's health service center in September. Provided to China Daily

Community health service centers play a vital role for Chinese patients but they also provide services to expatriates.

Sanlitun, an area of Beijing with a large foreign population, is a prime example.

Nestled among embassies and expatriate residences, Sanlitun health service center receives about 120,000 patients annually. Of these, more than 400 are expatriates, including staff members of embassies and companies and their families, said Cui Xueli, director of the center.

"We charge them the same price that we charge Chinese residents," he said.

According to Cui, expats go to the center mainly for vaccinations for their children and physical checkups before they start kindergarten. Some come for treatment of minor ailments such as colds, fevers or inflammations, as well as dental problems.

Foreigners are also attracted by traditional Chinese medicine.

"The number of foreigners who come for our TCM service has been increasing gradually over the years," Cui said.

Jiao Bin, a doctor at the center’s TCM department, said some foreigners come in groups, and many seek to relieve symptoms of work pressure, such as insomnia or digestive problems.

"It is much cheaper in China," he said.

It costs just 3 yuan (49 US cents) to consult a doctor at the center.

Tian Yali, head of the center’s healthcare department, which handles children’s inoculations and physical checkups, agreed that the low price is a key factor.

Tian said that more than 30 foreign children are vaccinated there each year, and more than 50 come for physical exams before enrolling in kindergarten.

The center provides flu vaccinations to students in schools sponsored by embassies.

Expatriates’ children, like those of the Chinese residents, receive free vaccinations for hepatitis, tuberculosis, epidemic meningitis and polio, and students in schools sponsored by embassies get flu vaccinations for free, as do the Chinese students, she said.

"Also, primary physical exams for children cost no more than 50 yuan."

However, problems of communication remain a challenge.

"Expatriates speak all kinds of languages," said Tian. "Our staff workers can speak English to clarify basic issues, but those who don’t speak English will have to come with a translator."