China’s hospital system is in need of desperate repair. Pent up patient frustration has resulted in violent attacks against medical workers. Last October, one man in Zhejiang province even stabbed a doctor to death.
It is believed that such extreme outbursts are caused by an inequitable public health care system. There is a lack of effective channels for patients to complain about their gripes, doctors over prescribe medicine to make more money and they expect bribes before providing proper treatment or reducing a patient’s waiting time.
A driving force behind this rampant behavior by doctors is their own frustration against their severely low salaries. For all their years of study, tiringly long hours and high-stress work, they only receive about US$500-$1,500 per month – comparable to that of a taxi driver.
To curb corruption, some hospitals such as Beijing Friendship are experimenting with reforms that require patients to pay more for doctors but less for medicine, lowering the overall cost.
Now technology in the form of WeChat, is being used to capture efficiency gains in hospitals. Tencent’s WeChat is China’s most popular mobile messaging app that has become a pervasive part of people’s daily lives. Improving efficiency in China’s hospital system is of paramount importance, especially when the top hospitals have to deal with around 10,000 patients everyday. Every minute matters.
From personal experience I know how inefficient hospitals in China are. When I had a skin infection last year, I went to one of the better local hospitals in Beijing. When I arrived I had to line up to buy a blue paper book for US 50 cents that would be used by the doctor to write notes. I then had to join another line to pay roughly US$2 to see a doctor. To see the doctor, I had to go upstairs and take a number and wait for forty minutes to see a doctor who would consult me for two minutes. To see the real doctor, I had to wait again for another half an hour. To collect my prescribed medicine, I went back downstairs to one window. To pay for the medicine I had to line up at another window. I thought it was extremely cheap, until I had to pay for the medicine.
Although a few hospitals across China have already started to take advantage of a WeChat public account to communicate news and updates with patients, YueBei Peoples Hospital in the southern province of Guangdong is the first to allow patients to pay for registration and medicine through WeChat.
In this new trial, the hospital has posted WeChat QR codes around the hospital for patients to connect with its public account – similar to a micro blog. Once connected, patients can view information about specialist doctors, make an appointment and even monitor where they are in the queue. The ability for patients to pre-pay their registration fee and medicine costs through the app (if they have connected their bankcard to WeChat) further accelerates the usual cumbersome experience.
To cater to the elderly or those without the ability to use WeChat, the app allows people who can, to manage the hospital process for others. Additionally, in a positive step towards continuous improvement, after patients have made payments through the app, they are prompted to complete a satisfaction and feedback survey. To educate patients about the benefits of using WeChat, the hospital has set up a dedicated window to consult and advise patients.
With its widespread scale across China, WeChat has become very effective at solving real social problems through offline integration. For example, it’s ‘Order a Taxi’ feature is being extensively used to save time waiting for a taxi. The ubiquitous nature of WeChat is in contrast to competitor apps like Whatsapp that purely focus on the functionality of communication. In this sense, WeChat is proof that China can be a leader of innovation.
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