How can China provide healthcare for everyone?

China’s health system has made great strides that have improved the quality of life for its citizens. In 2010, the average life expectancy was 74.8 years. Since 2005, infant mortality has nearly halved. Nearly everyone has health insurance. The country still faces many challenges and the system needs to improve. China will make healthcare affordable and more accessible if it embraces digital innovation and encourages collaboration.

China’s remarkable progress in the last few decades is nothing short of amazing. China has grown to be an economic superpower and given rise to incredible mega-cities. It is also a hub for scientific breakthroughs. However, China’s rapid industrialization has come at a cost: 85% of deaths in China are due to chronic diseases that are common in developed countries. This care consumes 70% of the country’s Engish speaking doctors in China budget. The country’s population, which is now 1.3 billion, is aging rapidly. This makes it more important to find ways to ensure that the healthcare industry remains resilient.

The country is already working to reform its healthcare system. For example, health insurance used to be an exclusive benefit for those who lived in urban areas. The government introduced a basic public insurance program in order to make it more affordable. About 95% of Chinese citizens now have some form of coverage. This is up from 30% in 2003.

Access to affordable health care does not necessarily mean that it is always possible to get health care. China’s rural population is less able to access highly-trained doctors because the majority of medical resources are concentrated in cities. This is despite the fact that China will soon have 70% of its population living in urban areas. The quality of rural life will suffer if the countryside is not provided with better healthcare. There are many initiatives underway to address this problem and several healthcare providers have already joined forces. In collaboration with the China Medical Doctor Association, over 2,000 radiologists have been trained in imaging technologies, diagnosis, and analysis of common illnesses.

Digital dividend

Innovation and technology will complement government policy changes. Connected digital devices can revolutionize the way doctors and patients work. Philips’ Personal Health Management System was developed in Shanghai. It is a tool that allows medical professionals to better manage chronic diseases outside of the hospital. It monitors patients’ vital signs and suggests healthier lifestyle choices. New emerging service models such as “medical consors” will stimulate the development of the Regional Health Information Systems platform (RHINs). This will facilitate information sharing and operations between community health centres, primary and Level 3 hospitals. These solutions can effectively reduce the imbalance in China’s healthcare resources, improve access and lower costs.

What is the role of the public?

Technology firms are able to innovate, but the public is an essential partner in the transition to a better and more sustainable health system. Like other countries, the Chinese are more influenced by globalization, lifestyle changes and increased physical activity. Many Chinese suffer from poor diet choices, obesity, and inactivity. It is therefore encouraging to see the government’s Healthy China 2020 program, which focuses in part on preventing chronic disease and encouraging healthier lifestyle choices and eating habits.

The programme is largely media-run and localized. It focuses on community change rather than laws. So far, the results have been encouraging. In urban areas, people are more active and make better food choices. Additionally, people are becoming more aware of their health through social media and making greater use of personal health tech. This gives China confidence that it can and will improve the health of its healthcare system, driven by its citizens’ aspirations for a better future.

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