More Chinese going abroad for medical treatment #Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US


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More Chinese going abroad for medical treatment #Oriental Outlook#

While the trend of going abroad for medical service in China started with getting plastic surgery in countries like Japan and South Korea, more and more people in China seeking the service today are those who have got serious illness and are trying to find new approaches to better life.

According to a report on Chinese overseas medical treatment in 2016, 40.8% of the treatments were about critical illnesses like cancer, larger than any other treatment items.

A latest report by IMS Health shows that the five-year survival rate for Chinese cancer patients was estimated to be around 36% in 2015, while it was 70% in the US in 2012.

Some Chinese experts say the major difference between China and some developed countries in terms of cancer treatment so far lies in the treatment of some very “rare and knotty” diseases. However, in terms of cancer screening and the general medical level, there is no essential difference.

In the 17th issue of Oriental Outlook, the magazine ran a cover story on the trend of seeking medical treatment abroad in China. Below is an excerpt of the article.


More drugs, better service

While it is beyond doubt that seeking new approaches to treating critical illnesses is the most important reason for Chinese patients to go abroad for medical treatment, more new drugs and better medical services have also contributed to this trend.

So far, around 71% of drugs targeting cancer have not been launched in China where, in tumor treatment area alone, it often takes five to 10 years to make a new drug available to public after it was launched in other countries, according to Cai Qiang, founder of Saint Lucia Consulting, a company providing guidance on overseas medical care for Chinese patients suffering from serious diseases.

Meanwhile, lack of medical resources and staff compared with the large number of patients in the country often brings poor experience to the patients. In China, patients often have to wait hours to see a doctor. In the end, the doctors only spend a few minutes with the patient, while in the US a doctor usually can spend 40-60 minutes with a patient during consultation, according to Cai.

Cai said it is not because the doctors don’t want to, but because Chinese doctors usually do not have as much time as doctors in the US to take care of every patient.

“Every hospital was full of people and there were patients everywhere. Sometimes you couldn’t even find a line (to get a number). I could do nothing but see my father suffer,” said Wang Gang, founder of hopenoah, whose father was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and passed away two years later.

High expense

While overseas medical services provide new channels for Chinese patients to seek cure for their diseases, it’s still too expensive to be affordable for all Chinese patients.

According to Cai, the average cost of cancer treatment in the US is about 1 million yuan (over $145,000), and could be as high as over 10 million yuan.

Qin Shukui, vice director of PLA No. 81 Hospital who once visited the US in the 1990s, said the cost of hospital stay each day was $5,000 at that time, which amounted to around 40,000 Chinese yuan based on the exchange rate at the time.

“Even ordinary salaried American people would find it hard to afford such a high expense, not to mention Chinese,” Qin said.

“This means only high income Chinese can go overseas for medical services, and even if a patient is attracted by the advanced medical techniques, they have to give up in the end due to the high expense,” said Cai, adding most of his customers are bosses and senior managers of a company.

Adding to that is the cost one has to pay to the consulting companies in China.

While consulting companies in China usually offer comprehensive service packages including translation, visa, and communicating with overseas medical centers, the costs differ from different companies ranging from around 50,000 yuan to over 150,000 yuan.

Service provided by Saint Lucia Consulting is currently the most expensive one in China with a tumor package taking at least 138,000 yuan.

While consulting companies are obliged to help patients find the most appropriate overseas hospital, Xiong Juan, CEO of cycares.com, said not all diseases have to be treated abroad. What they are trying to do is to help patients make rational choices, she said.

Market potential

According to a report released in July 2016, the size of cross-border medical service market in China was 8.9 billion yuan in 2015, and the figure is expected to reach 58.1 billion yuan in 2020.

Cai, who started the cross-border medical service consulting company eight years ago, was surprised to see the booming of this industry today. There are hundreds of such consulting companies in China, according to Cai.

He said when he first decided to set up the company eight years ago, it was hard to register a name for the company as the staff at the registration office didn’t quite understand what an overseas medical service consulting company was supposed to mean. So he changed the name into “hospital management consulting company.”

“Even many high income people in China never thought about getting medical treatment abroad at that time. They were all eyeing top domestic hospitals like Peking Union Medical College Hospital and Chinese PLA Hospital,” Cai recalled, adding that only about 8 patients came to his company in 2012, while the number increased rapidly in 2014.

Cai was echoed by Wang who said the trend of Chinese seeking overseas medical treatment somehow started in the latter half of 2014. He believes that the rising trend has something to do with the increase in cancer patients in China and Chinese overseas travel.

Xiong said one of their partner medical centers, a Japanese medical center, received around 200 Chinese patients in 2014, while the number quadrupled in 2016.

According to Cai, although cross-border medical service sector is still a “high-end niche market” in China which targets the high-income group, the market size would keep increasing in the coming few years considering the rising cancer incidence rate and people’s income.


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