While oversea hunting, oversea bearing and other oversea activities have been popular in China, another oversea project has been taking up the healthcare and medical industry: oversea cure for diseases.

China Daily reported that in 2006, 20 million Chinese patients went abroad for treatment, the number was increased to 40 million in 2012. The market has been booming and formed an industry chain: oversea treatment agency. Now, oversea treatment market scale has reached 100 billion dollars.

Why Go Oversea

When the best hospitals and best doctors in China can do nothing to save patients’ lives, Chinese patients, especially cancer sufferers, depend on oversea technologies and treatments.

Lin Tao (pseudonym) in Hangzhou post an article about going to the US for treatment. He was diagnosed as having spine tumor in 2012. Lin and his wife went to many top hospitals in the country and consulted many experts, all of them suggested that they do the joint replacement surgery, which was difficult to carry with high risk. After the surgery, the patient’s movement would be limited. Without surgery, the patient would paralyzed.

Lin finally decided to go to the US for better treatment. Most US hospitals have international center that receive foreign patients. He applied online and received registration order. The doctor said that Lin had marrow tumor and didn’t not need surgery to recover, he only needed have radiotherapy. Lin received 20 times of radiotherapy that cost 50,000 dollars. After one month, the tumor was shrunk. The doctor suggested eating calcium tablets to help to recover the bones. Spending all together 450,000 yuan, Lin is now fully recovered.

However, same radiotherapy in China only costs 60,000 yuan, but Chinese doctor didn’t even mentioned such treatment.

A man surnamed Liu told Beijing Youth Daily reporters that his 80-year-old aunt used to have surgery in the US and came back to China. Liu said that the patients of Chinese doctors for one day was equal to the number of US doctors for one month, so Chinese doctors could hardly have personalized and careful diagnosis and treatment. Liu said that he thought foreign medical care did not take advantage over the doctors, they had sophisticated diagnose equipment and clinical medication such as targeted cancer therapy. While China has catalogues treatment, other countries have prescription according to individual symptom.

Mayo Clinic in Minnesota said that in the past year, the number of Chinese patients of the hospital was doubled. Medical Center of University of California at San Francisco and Massachusetts General Hospital also saw rapid increase of the number of Chinese patients.

Xiao Qinglun, professor at Harvard University said that Chinese hospitals aims at making money. Getting kickbacks from selling prescribed medicines is common and it increases the burden of patients. Cai Jiangnan, director of Health Care and Policy Research Center of China Europe International Business School said that some medical process in China is not in consideration for the patients, but for financial reasons. China has not founded a complete system of service for patients.

As well as cancer, heart diseases, bone diseases sufferers and plastic surgery seekers are also the majority that go abroad.

Expensive Agencies

Going abroad is a complicated process to many Chinese people. Like travel agencies, many of them turn to oversea treatment agencies for help.

Insiders estimated that there are more than 1,000 agencies that provide service include case report translation, remote consultation, contacting and making appointment with doctors, visa, flight and hotel booking, interpreter, oversea car service and other needed service during the trip. These agencies mainly locate in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Hangzhou and some top-tier cities.

Beijing Youth Daily reporters searched for such agencies online and found more than millions of results. The price of each agency varies a lot. For remote consultation, one agency charges for 25,000 yuan, another charges for at least 42,000 yuan. Prices range from some 10,000 yuan to some 100,000 yuan without national standard or industry standard.

There are also cases that the actual cost exceeded the estimation cost provided by agencies. Patients had no money and escaped, which defames Chinese patients.

Online results showed that almost all agencies claimed that they had cooperation with Massachusetts General Hospital affiliated to Harvard University’s Medical School, Mayo Clinic and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The three hospitals introduction were put in the obvious position on their websites. However, none of them showed any document or accredit that proves the cooperation.

Cai Qiang, the founder and president of Saint Lucia Consulting, an accredited agency in the industry, said that building connection with top foreign hospitals is not simple. To get authorization from top hospitals such as Mayo Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital, agencies and hospitals will have exchange visits. Hospitals will also send evaluation group to investigate the agency. The legal department of the hospitals will also investigate the net asset. There are many legal process to go through before the authorization.

Zhuang Yiqiang, director and PhD of Hong Kong Ailibi Hospital Management Research Center, said that beds in famous oversea hospitals are far less than domestic hospitals. Massachusetts General Hospital only has about 1,000 beds and they first ensure the need of US citizens.

Suggestion on Oversea Treatment

Insiders suggest that patients carefully check the accredits of an agency. Hospitals recommended by the agencies may be not the best, or even worse than domestic ones. Take the US for example, there are more than 40 cancer centers as well as profit and non-profit hospitals. Some of the so called top tier hospitals recommended by agencies may be a third-level clinic rated by local residents.

The qualification of foreign doctors can be checked on the hospital’s website. Patients should check the major research field of the doctor.

One of the most important process is the translation of case report. Insiders said that agencies often claimed that they invite experts to translate the case report. However, there were many accidents caused by false translation. To reduce cost, some agencies find people on taobao.com to translate. It is also important to check the qualification of the interpreter who accompany the patients to go abroad.

Insiders also suggest that patients look at Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan, where there are also advanced therapies. It is also easy for patients to communicate.

Diao Jiayi

About Diao Jiayi

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Diao Diao is a tomboy whose head is full of weird ideas. She's a little lazy, but she loves life and her family and is always up for a challenge.

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  1. Hi Diao Diao,
    Excellent article. I work at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (U.S.). I hope that people and institutions from China and the U.S. will find more effective ways to cooperate to the benefit of citizens of both nations. Two years ago, there was talk of a possible partnership to open a Mass General Hospital in Zhuhai City in Guangdong, China. I don’t know if the project is still ongoing.
    Keep up the good work!

    Jim Travers / Reply

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