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China's Hospitals
Private GPs are few and far between in Beijing, so for a consultation you will generally have to visit a hospital (yiyuan). In the past, foreigners could visit only a limited number of hospitals, but now you can hobble into almost any one in the country and request to see the doctor (daifu). Be advised that standards range dramatically in public hospitals. In some you will be treated promptly and effectively by a bilingual medic, while in others you may find yourself waiting so long that your condition has remedied itself by the time you receive attention.

Various private and international hospitals are scattered around the country's major cities. The care offered by the best of them is comparable to most major hospitals in the West – at comparable cost as well. This underlines a vital point for visitors and resident expats alike: get medical insurance from a reputable provider. Foreigners who are not fazed by Chinese public hospitals may well be able to get by without insurance, but a serious illness or injury can change the picture dramatically. Suddenly, only an international hospital will do, and a week in one of those can be financially crippling – and don't even think of the bill for a medical evacuation. Get insurance.

If you decide to go to a Chinese hospital, it is worth taking the time to seek out one that caters to foreigners. They are more costly than the average Chinese infirmary, but you are buying a more efficient and personalized standard of care. More important, it's likely that the doctors, nurses and hospital administrators will be able to speak good English. Many hospitals with an international department (guoji yiliao bu) actually provide English lessons for their staff.

You will have to register with administration before you get to see the doc. Procedures here vary among the hospitals, but the lower down the scale you go, the more time-consuming and frustrating they become. Basically, you find the registration department (guahao chu), and request to see the relevant specialist. You will be given a slip of paper with your registration fee (guahao fei). This you bring to the cash handlers (which are rarely located next to registration) and duly pay. Make sure you are carrying enough cash – you won't get to see a doctor until you've coughed up this fee. Bring your receipt back to the registry department, and they will give you another slip of paper.

Now you must locate the department that specializes in your particular malady. These are usually marked bilingually in hospitals, whether or not they have an international section. But don't be too surprised - or shocked - at some of the English versions. (The translation for ''gynecology department'' in one Beijing hospital is not fit for print on this page). Once you have found the reception desk, they will (usually) exchange your slip for yet another imprinted with a number. Then, it's time to wait for the doctor.

Patients who splash out on the international department will probably be tended to immediately C they might be the doctor's only case that day. Those that decide to rough it in the local wards should be prepared to wait, and can expect company during their consultation. Doctors in these hospitals can have a patient list numbering 100, and holding multiple consultations is a popular way of ensuring that everyone gets treated. The concept of privacy does not enter the equation here C so you can expect to have your complaint discussed and diagnosed by less qualified people than your doctor.

When you've received the more professional opinion, you may be instructed to seek tests or x-rays, which involves another visit to the cashier, and a pleasant surprise: most of these procedures in Chinese public hospitals are done at a fraction of the cost you would face in a Western institution. Alternatively, you'll be given a prescription. Or more than one: for many hospitals in China, the pharmacy is an important profit center. You will usually have to take your prescription to the in-hospital pharmacy (yao fang). For many Westerners, this part of the visit may actually be another pleasant surprise. Drugs in China tend to be far, far cheaper than those in the West. If you visit the international department of the hospital, you will have to fork out anything between RMB 50 and RMB 300 for registration (this normally includes the consultancy fee). Your medicine bill will likely be a fraction of that amount.

In the case of an overnight stay at a Chinese hospital, be aware that meals and snacks are not served to in-patients, and it is considered the responsibility of the in-patients family and friends to bring food. There is usually a hospital canteen, and several shops, that serve hot, cold and instant meals.

If you are experiencing a medical emergency in China, dial 120 for an ambulance, or call the International SOS 24-hour Emergency Alarm Center at (10) 6462 9100.  This call center is located in Beijing, but will help with urgent cases throughout China. It provides service in 77 languages.

They offer two 24-hour emergency Alarm Centers in Beijing and Hong Kong that can alert the SOS center nearest you.  In- and Out-patient International SOS branches are located in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Nanjing, Tianjin and Shekou.  

Beijing Alarm Center
24-Hour Hotline
Tel: 86 10 6462 9100
Fax: 86 10 6462 9117

Hong Kong Alarm Center
24-Hour Hotline
Tel: 852 2528 9900
Fax: 852 2528 9933
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