Major Chinese cities are building a network of community clinics to form a healthcare backbone for citizens.
Beijing will allocate 2 billion yuan (US$250 million) over the next three years to establish a community clinic service following successful trial operations in other cities.
All urban and rural areas will be covered by clinics at the end of this year, Deng Xiaohong, deputy director of Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, was quoted as saying by the Beijing-based China Daily.
To achieve the goal, nearly 1,000 more clinics need to be built or renovated.
Deng told a conference over the weekend that more after-care work, including medical check-up facilities, training facilities and work performance systems would be put in place over the next two years.
As of the end of March, some 176 community clinics, and over 2,250 healthcare stations, had been established in five districts in Beijing. They will focus on controlling four chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and coronary heart disease.
"Community clinics are to be made capable of treating various minor diseases and chronic diseases as well.
"People in the future will not have to rush to big hospitals and pay high prices to get treatment," said Deng.
In Shanghai, where a community healthcare system has been in operation for some time, people have already begun to reap the benefits.
Bringing a health service to office workers is now a fact in Shanghai. Echo Liu, who works in human resources at L'Oreal China, said the Jing'an Temple Community Health Care Center sent nurses to the company, helping its 400 employees get flu vaccination last year.
"Due to time pressure because of our work schedule, it's very difficult to get everybody to hospital to get vaccinated," she said.
Since 2003, the center has pioneered health services medical checkups, vaccination and health consultations in workplaces.
These are mostly in the prosperous Nanjing Road area and include the Shanghai Center, the Hilton Hotel and L'Oreal.
The development of community clinics in Guangzhou tells another story. Acupuncture, cupping and massage, and other traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) techniques are carried out by nurses in patients' homes.
The district of Liwan was the first to set up a district-level TCM hospital in Guangzhou.
In 2004, the Liwan government invested 94.38 million yuan (US$11.6 million) to launch a TCM community network, setting up three TCM hospitals.
Guangdong Province aims to provide TCM services at all health centers by 2010 to improve services for the rural population, said Peng Wei, vice-director of Guangdong Provincial Health Bureau and director of the Guangdong Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
"To make healthcare more affordable to the public is our long-term mission," said Peng.
The successful experience in Liwan District is to be promoted, he said. In Guangdong, 91 percent of counties have TCM hospitals, 74 percent of towns have TCM departments in their health centers, and 59 percent of villages provide TCM services at their clinics.
A series of training schemes will be available to rural TCM practitioners this year.
However, Guangdong is still in the preliminary stages of building up these services, Peng said.
TCM has yet to fulfil its full healthcare role, and there is still a way to go to reduce individuals' medical bills, he said.
In east China's Jiangsu Province, the public still does not know whether to visit community clinics or big hospitals, partly because of the fear of imbalanced medical resources and expertise.
The provincial government has put forwards regulations to differentiate between medical insurance rates for big hospitals and community clinics.
This aims to encourage more people to choose community clinics, which are far less expensive.
The province also encourages experienced doctors from big hospitals to work at community centers for a time.
Services and facilities in each community clinic are evaluated every year, and health bureaus give clinics financial help according to their performance.
(China Daily April 3, 2006)