OK, so I finally feel experienced enough with the healthcare system in China to write about it. I got sick, Alex's stomach had fire inside of it, I got sick again, Kelsey hurt her abdomen; we have now experienced a fair amount of healthcare. Each of our experiences was wildly different and if I had to sum up Chinese healthcare with one word, it would be “multi-faceted and variegated”.
中国农业大学东区社区卫生服务中心 (zhōngguó nóngyè dàxué dōngqū shèqū wèishēng fúwù zhōngxīn)
When I got sick the first time, I (with the help of 张老师 and Betty) visited the small clinic on campus. This was a very good experience. We walked up to the counter first, and we asked to see a doctor. We had to pay about 5 RMB (less than 1 USD) for the doctor's visit beforehand. Right away, there was a doctor to see me. To be honest, I was a little put off by the scary surgeon mask and hat. Had I been able to see more of my doctor's face, I think I might have felt a little more secure. She did not inspect me as I had come grown accustomed to in the US. There was no stethoscop-ing, no thermometer-ing. She did look down my throat though with a little yellow flashlight (you can see it in the picture).
I was then ordered to do a blood test. We returned to the counter to ask for a blood test and then were sent upstairs. The blood test took twenty minutes and cost about 15 RMB (around 3 USD).
After all of this, I returned to the doctor who prescribed to me some amoxicillin and other medications which I'm altogether unsure of what they were. I got better on the medication and was back on my feet pretty quick.
北京体育大学 (běijīng tǐyù dàxué)
Alex has a fire in his eyes. Or rather, in his stomach. In other words, he always feels hungry, even when he is full. In the US, Alex used to visit an acupuncturist, so he is used to the routine. Other than acupuncture, he could use the traditional remedy of eating vegetables to alleviate his hunger—but that is a little tough for some people.
We accompanied 张老师 to the acupuncturist at 北京体育大学 (běijīng tǐyù dàxué–Beijing Athletic University). She was having some pain-relieving acupuncture for her foot (flying couch?).
Alex decided to try out the Chinese acupuncturist, to see if they could alleviate some of the fire in his stomach. As you can see, the doctor stuck the needles deep into his legs to fix the problem in his stomach. They then connected a little batter powered shock machine and put a heat lamp over his legs. After about half an hour of little shocks, Alex says that his stomach felt relieved, his hunger was gone, and after removing the needles, his legs felt as if it had never happened.
As for the doctor's office itself, it was an interesting site for our eyes. it seemed to be small, dirty, and lacking in the concept of privacy and officialness. The beds were small and close together. And the furniture seemed repurposed and from a different era. That being said. This small clinic managed to serve at least 15 people in the short hour we were there. Efficiency and openness is the impression that I am left with.
It is still unclear as to how, but Kelsey pulled some muscles in her stomach and was in a lot of pain recently. I had the pleasure and lucky cultural experience with Stone to accompany her to 和睦家 (hémùjiā–United Family Healthcare). In stark contrast with the previous hospital visits, 和睦家 was big, clean, full of officialness, full of English, and (had it not been for the traveler's insurance) very, very expensive.
At 和睦家 they performed many serious western medical tests: blood work, CT scans, urine analysis, thermometer-ing. The experience felt very much like a hospital back home. Unlike the small clinic on campus, there were nurses. There was an element of personal attention and privacy was overall pretty good, but this was all at a loss of speed and efficiency.
To sum it up
It seems to me that, be it Western drugs or traditional herbal remedies, medicine is readily prescribed and easily purchased. Pharmacies are many and people will often visit them. In a country where amoxicillin can be bought over the counter, this prevalence of availability may be a problem or it may not. Perhaps it is in fact contributing to new drug-resistant strands of disease or enabling a wide diffusion of fake medications, but from what I have seen it is not a problem.
Getting sick is a social activity. When you get sick, your Chinese friends offer to give you medicine (thank you Christina), they will bring you 粥(zhōu–rice porridge that is the best medicine), and they will gladly take you to the clinic or hospital.
To sum it up, healthcare in China comes in many packages and sizes. You can get cheap treatment or expensive treatment, Western medicine or Chinese medicine. But most importantly, you can get treatment. If you are sick you can get help and you can get better.