Not since the earliest days of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of the iron rice bowl in the 1980s has China faced as great a need for change as the leaders currently face.
Then as now, the government in Beijing recognized a pressing need to reform the means by which social services were provided. But unlike then, today’s reforms must occur in the midst of a society that has already experienced significant economic growth and has already gone through a painful opening of formerly public services to private competition.
For most Chinese, while their economic futures have materially improved since Deng’s painful reforms were enacted, their access to healthcare has actually deteriorated, a point Yanzhong Huang, the Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council of Foreign Relations, has made eloquently in his recent research.
Beijing’s struggle to reform its healthcare system brings political concerns, social issues and business pressures together on a collision course. While the need for government and industry to collaborate on these matters is obvious, whether China’s pressing concerns in this area will allow it to do so remains to be seen.
The ever-present temptation in China, to simply resort to government-mandated policies absent industry’s guidance, is one the country has already given into at a national level relative to clean technology, and at a provincial level through the Anhui pharmaceutical pricing model.
Last week I went to see a doctor about an EHR. Dr. Greene (not his real name) is a typical solo primary care physician in a typical small town in the typical middle of nowhere. Four hours from the closest airport and miles and miles of winding roads, cow pastures and corn fields away from medical centers of excellence. Dr. Greene is in his late fifties and has been practicing medicine for over thirty years in the same location. He works six days per week and missed “two and a half” days of work since he hung his shingle up and never missed a Rotary Club luncheon. Dr. Greene is planning on practicing for ten more years and now, he wants to go electronic.
Dr. Greene’s practice is located in a small and spotless one-story building with large windows and an open floor plan. We sat down at a white laminate round table in the kitchen during his lunch break. His wife of many years is his office manager and the only other employee is a nurse who doubles as front office receptionist. His shortest appointment is for 30 minutes and new patients, who are scheduled for 1 hour, come at the end of the day just in case it takes longer than planned. His notes, written on special gold colored paper in nicely rounded cursive font, are concise and neatly organized by visit date. Like most doctors who use paper charts, he doesn’t code his visits. He checks diagnoses and procedures on a sparse super-bill devoid of any numbers. His wife and office manager takes it from there and all his claims go out electronically every day.