Hospital Visits, A Necessary Evil
Hospitals suck. Over the past 17 years, I have been to every hospital you can name in Beijing for my spine and various other things, ranging from motorcycle accidents to lady business. I wanted to share this guide with you to make the process less intimidating.
This article was picked up by Beijing Kids and published on their website. Thanks, gang!
Local Is Not So Bad
Honestly, I like Chinese hospitals way more than the international hospitals here (I have had a horrible experience with one of biggest international hospitals, and I will write more about that another time). They are quick, cheap, efficient, and easy if you know what you are doing. There is a lot of going up and down stairs to various windows, but it might be worth it. The cost of a basic MRI at Oasis private hospital in Beijing is upwards of 8000 RMB. At Chaoyang Hospital, it is 500 RMB. I mean…. cummon.
Even if you plan to do a surgery or get a diagnosis at an international hospital, it is worth it to go first to a local one and get all of your imagery and initial consultations done first. Especially when you realise that the fee to see an orthopaedic specialist at United Family Hospital is 2600 RMB and at Chaoyang Hospital, it will set you back a measly 50 kuai.
I will use Chaoyang Hospital for this guide, but most Chinese hospitals run on this exact system, as dictated by the government. With this guide and a translator app on your phone, I believe you could easily get an MRI/X-Ray/CT/ultrasound without speaking Chinese.
Step 1: Getting a patient card
All hospitals will need to see your passport on the first visit. Take it to the main lobby registration booths, hand it to them and ask for a medical card. In Chinese, that’s Yīliáo kǎ (医疗卡). It will cost a token amount, usually around 10 kuai. If you are in the wrong line, they will point you to the right one, or you can ask the information desk first where you should line up by showing your passport and asking for an “yiliao ka”.
Step 2: Getting an appointment
You need to know what doctor you want to see. Do a bit of research before you go and figure out how to say the name of the department you need. If you have a bone problem, you will see the orthopaedic department. In Chinese, that’s the Gǔkē (骨科). Line up with the people in the main lobby again, hand them your medical card and say (or show them on your phone) the Chinese word for your department. They will ask you for a doctor fee, this is usually around 50 kuai. They will then hand you a small paper ticket. This is important. See the photo below to understand what it means. Go to the floor number stated on the ticket (in my case, 6th) and look for signs (in English) to your department.
Step 3: Seeing your doctor
Once you have found your department, take your card and ticket to the little registration desk, the nurse will scan your card and then you can take a seat.
Your name (in whatever language you gave it to them in) and ticket number will come up on the big screen and be announced over the speaker system when it is time for you to go to a doctors room. The screen will have a room number next to your name. Go and find that room number and stand outside the door if there are people still inside. There will be another electronic screen outside the door and your name will be on there in a queue. When your name is up top, it is your turn.
This is when you will need some Chinese. So either learn how to say what you need or have it written down. For my situation, I told the doctor “I have lower back problems, I want an MRI, I will get treatment in Australia”. Now, if you can converse with the doctor, he might want to offer you medication or ask you questions, but they are also very content with just printing you out a slip to go get your MRI and that’s all the conversation you will need to have.
- 核磁 (Hécí) = MRI
- CT扫描 (CT sǎomiáo) = CT Scan
- X射线 (X shèxiàn) = X-Ray
- 超声波 (Chāoshēngbō) = Ultrasound
Step 4: Booking your MRI
Take the slip from the doctor and go down to the ground floor cashier lines (different from the registration lines). Hand them the paper and your card, and then the price will show up on the screen for you to pay. 535.47 kuai. Bargain. No Chinese needed.
Now you have to head to the right department to make your appointment. You can ask someone or read the information boards in English. In my case, I needed to go to the radiology department on the 2nd floor.
After following the sign, I was at another window with another short line.
I gave them my receipt and slip from the doctor and they shouted a time and date at me. They also wrote it down and handed it back to me and that was the end of that interaction. No Chinese needed. I was to return three days later, on the 17th of April at 7:30 pm. This was the longest I have ever had to wait for imaging. At other times, I have had the MRI that same day or the following day, it just depends on how busy the hospital is. They also give you a form to fill out and bring back, have a friend help you. It basically states that you understand you can’t wear any metal or makeup etc.
Doing the MRI
On the day and time of your appointment, you will head to the right section. In my case, they perform the MRIs in the basement. If you have trouble, wave your appointment paper at people till someone points you in the right direction.
When you get to the MRI basement section, take your papers to the desk marked “核磁登记处 MRI Registration”. Give them to the nurse and she will register you and hand your stuff back with the addition of an empty MRI bag (more on this later).
After that, you just have to stand about and listen for your name. There are four MRI machine rooms and doctors will come out of them every 15 minutes or so and shout patients names. There are lockers with keys to put your belongings in. When you hear your name, go with the doctor and he will lay you down and you will slide into the tube. He will give you ear plugs and a thing to hold which you press if you have an emergency during the procedure.
After you come out of the tube, that’s it for the day. You go home and return 2 to 3 days later for your results. Recently I needed an MRI and went to Huaxin Hospital in Jiuxianqiao and it only took them one hour to print my MRI, so count on anything from an hour to 3 days.
When you return to collect the results, go back to the MRI basement, walk up to one of the printers in the room, scan the barcode on your empty MRI bag and the machine will do the rest.
No Chinese needed, no human interaction. The huge printers will take a minute or two to print all of your slides and a report (all in Chinese, an initial assessment written by a radiology doctor).
Now that you have your imaging, it is up to you what to do with it. You can go back up to the department you first visited and speak to a doctor about your treatment options, or you can take those valuable slides to another hospital or even back home. My Australian doctors were more than happy to accept the Chinese MRI slides. In Australia, you could wait up to a month to get an MRI done in the public system. So this is a great option to save time and money.
Behold! My messed up vertebrae discs!
Your International Options
There are several smallish clinics with a range of general practitioners in Beijing which you can go to for your basic health concerns. These places might have to refer you to one of the big guys if you require more serious treatment, but they are pretty convenient for most things. Most of them will charge you something in the range of 1000 RMB for your initial consultation.
This is a lovely little clinic on the east gate of Ritan Park in the first embassy area. It is designed in a traditional Chinese courtyard style with a full dental clinic as well as several GPs for you to consult with. If you require a specialist they will call one in from another hospital for an appointment. It has a great vibe, and it is one of the cheaper options in the international game. An initial consultation will set you back up to 600 RMB plus whatever meds or treatment you need.
Raffles Medical (formerly International SOS)
International Medical Center – Lufthansa Center
Hong Kong International Medical Clinic – Swissôtel
The Big Guys
The major players in the international hospital game are Beijing United Family Healthcare (I won’t link to them because I think they are evil money grubbers who don’t care about their patients at all), Oasis, Amcare, and Puhua. These places are big, obscenely expensive, and flashy. If you have great insurance which covers treatment at this level, then go for it. Otherwise, avoid.
Just an example, a quote from one of the hospitals listed above for a simple keyhole endoscopic surgery was 350,000 RMB. Yep, that’s US$51,000. For a procedure which takes about an hour. A part of this bill included 20,000 RMB for baby wipes and adult diapers, as well as a random 30,000 RMB for “other”. They really are just a huge insurance scam.