Health care is one of the three main things that the average Chinese worries about nowadays, along with children's education and housing.
Keeping healthy, with easy access to affordable medical care, is still a dream for many.
In fact, a Health Ministry survey released last year showed that 48.9 percent of the people do not go to see doctors when they become ill. And 29.6 percent of patients choose to go home even though their illnesses require hospitalization for treatment.
Hospitals have borne the brunt of public dissatisfaction with the current state of health care in China, as media blast this and that hospital for malpractice, exorbitant charges, use of substandard equipment, or other problems.
Along with the problems, there has been a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust between the public and medical personnel, which has grown to affect social harmony.
A lot of people, especially leading medical professionals, are trying to overcome misunderstandings and rebuild the doctor-patient trust.
Dr Wu Qingyu, president of First Hospital of Tsinghua University and one of China's leading cardiologists, is one of them. "It will be very difficult for us if patients do not trust us," Wu said.
The other day, I had a chance to talk with him about cardiology and its development in China. But our short meeting was constantly interrupted and not only by hospital staff, who came for Wu's quick approvals on certain equipment or hospital affairs.
There were phone calls. One elderly woman called from Dali, in southwest China's Yunnan Province, to ask if she should continue to take certain pills, such as aspirin, as her condition had stabilized.
There were also visitors relatives of patients, who didn't have the courtesy to knock on the door to the office, even though it is no more than 9 square meters in area and located in a makeshift low-rise building.
A man and a woman came in to ask Wu when he would be ready to perform the bypass surgery on their relative. The man said he and a few others wanted to return home because it is time to harvest their crops in the fields.
Wu tried his best to help his patients understand what to do and what to expect, with the phone calls or with visitors. To his patient's relatives, he explained that because of the patient's complications, he would perform the surgery once he could get the hospital's best team together and when he was sure he would be around for days after the surgery, to attend to after-surgery emergencies.
But misunderstandings and mistrust do exist, and some have resulted in hassle and harassment.
One young man and his mother barged in seeking to restate their argument and negotiate with the hospital because the young man's father had died there after brain surgery.
I left before the talk started, but I know it would be hard. The family had placed a coffin in the courtyard near the offices of Wu and other hospital officials after the father's death and had staged some kind of sit-ins for days.
The hospital has no one, nor any law, to aid them in keeping their staff free from such perpetuation.
The media criticism of hospitals is reasonable, but the root of the problems still lies with the country's poor public health care system.
Until two years ago, public medical insurance covered less than 10 percent of the urban population, as the health ministry reveals. We have yet to see how effective the new polices are at serving the rural population and urban poor in the new frame of medical insurance.
This year, the government began to increase its investment in public health care, after the percentage of its public health care input in the country's spending had declined between 1995 and 2005 despite the country's robust economic growth.
Insufficient government support and supervision of the hospitals, both financially and legally, have left both hospitals and individuals to fend for themselves.
It will take time, wisdom and will before the government takes effective measures to rebuild a new public health care system that really serves the people and without which, social harmony is only empty talk.
(China Daily September 14, 2006)