Innovation in pediatric care worth paying for

By Ramiro Ruiz
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, March 21, 2011
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Just two years ago on a Sunday night, I remember rushing to the Beijing Maternal and Child Health Care Hospital, to find a few people camped outside. Those who made it inside were sleeping on a line that ended in front of the registration window.

The high concentration of patients waiting for care at specialized children's hospitals in Beijing is by no means a sign of poor service at these specialized health centers. Rather, these crowds at specialized hospitals point out crippling inefficiencies at pediatric wards in the city's public general hospitals.

Despite surging demand for quality pediatric care, it may come as a shock to some that pediatric wards all over Beijing have been closing. How could such an economic paradox exist? To better comprehend the situation we need to understand the flaws of the public health care system.

In the past five years, aging public hospitals have been renovated nationwide. Despite the air of modernity apparent at gleaming new hospital wards, the quality of care within largely remains unchanged. In pediatric wards at public hospitals, it is still not unusual to witness unnerving scenes, like a crowd of parents huddling together with their babies in a small room waiting to be treated by a doctor, who is smoking a cigarette while observing an infant suffering from a respiratory illness. Despite this lack of standards, government funding continues to flow into public hospitals, whether or not patients are willing to subject themselves to such treatment.

Furthermore, most public hospitals make their profits from drugs prescribed to patients. Pediatric medicine costs more than adult drugs, so hospitals make less of a margin on its resale to patients. Since children often need special care but relatively little amounts of medication, it has become less profitable to operate pediatric wards based on this system. Public hospitals have thus far failed to realize that providing better care and more comprehensive treatment would allow them to make up these lost revenues.

Dr. Gao, a pediatrician working at a large public hospital, lamented at the situation she experiences every day at her ward.

"As I walk up the stairs everyday to my office, I'm typically surrounded by parents and grandparents holding their crying babies. I give them advice on how to take their medicine as I'm walking to my office. Once I get there, there is a crowd waiting for me. It's like this all year round," Gao says.

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