Medicines, Hospitals in Beijing


Public v. Private

There are public care facilities and hospitals all over the city. They are usually very large, noisy, chaotic and crowded but generally of good quality. Basic services cost RMB50-250 for expedited or English-speaking VIP services. If you have a minor problem, such as a stomach ailment or sprained ankle, public doctors can provide you with quality care at a fraction of the private clinic price. If your Chinese is substandard, bring a translator and the experience will be a lot less stressful.

If you have good insurance that covers care at international facilities, these will be more comfortable for people expecting Western standards. These may also be in your best interest for serious medical problems. Private facilities are smaller and more comfortable, and offer faster, friendlier service. Comprehensive providers like Beijing United Family and International SOS offer 24-hour emergency service and always have English-speakers on hand. But the prices are much higher and could lead to higher insurance premiums. If possible, call first to check if the hospital or clinic you plan to visit accepts your insurance.


Traditional Chinese Medicine is widespread in China, with Western medicine continually gaining respect. Regulation of Chinese medicine remains lax and may be prescribed, even when medical tests prove it is not useful or even harmful. Be educated and understand what your needs are.


There are a variety of facilities from local clinics to large, expensive hospitals that cater to internationals. Wait times are generally short. Usually less than 10 minutes at general clinics (menzhenshi), and virtually no wait time at emergency rooms (jizhenshi).

Western style medical facilities with international staff are available in Beijing. Local Chinese hospitals are usually much less expensive. They may also get a commission on the amount of medicine they prescribe and hence prepare large prescriptions. Beware that some physicians and hospitals have refused to supply American patients with complete copies of their Chinese hospital medical records, including laboratory test results, scans, and x-rays. If not in an emergency, make sure you understand all the paperwork and feel comfortable with the facility and staff.


Most hospitals and medical facilities will usually require a deposit or payment up front. Insurance will reimburse legitimate claims. Hospitals in major cities may accept credit cards, but others may insist on cash. Many facilities will not recognize foreign medical insurance.


To call an ambulance, dial 120 or 999 on any phone. The operator will probably not speak English. Ambulances are not always equipped with sophisticated technology and can be very slow to the scene. This is because gridlocked Beijing traffic does not yield to emergency vehicles. Many people choose to take a taxi or private car to the nearest facility. Keep a card with the name and address of your hospital of choice in both English and Chinese. Vehicles and facilities in rural areas may be limited.


The pharmaceutical industry is one of the leading industries in People's Republic of China. Changes in health care have led to a stronger patent system, more widespread medical insurance, and pharmaceutical-related regulations have been stiffened. China is reportedly expected to become the third largest pharmaceuticals market in the world.

The Chinese pharmaceutical distribution sector is very fragmented. There are over 10,000 state-owned pharmaceutical wholesalers. Direct marketing to doctors is common elsewhere, but not in China. Hence, Chinese hospitals generate 60 percent of their revenues from the sale of prescription drugs and make-up 80 percent of total drug sales.

Drugs are distributed in China through a three tiered distribution system.
Level 1 - On a National level, there are stations in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Guangzhou, and Tianjin. These allocate products to provincial regions
Level 2 - Distributors, who in turn sell to county and city Level 3 - Wholesaler-drug stores. At the bottom of the distribution chain are China's vast numbers of small retail stores are difficult to reach individually.

In the past, someone with an ailment would visit the equivalent of a pharmacist rather than a doctor. They would diagnose your problem, measure the herbal prescription, and prescribe dosage.

Today, when visiting a pharmacy there are several frustrations. Most of the brands you are familiar with will not be available and most labeling is in Chinese. The pharmacist may speak English, but it is up to you to communicate. Items such as cold medications, allergy medications and Pepto-Bismol are hard to find. However, if you know the medicines chemical name, they may be able to help find a close equivalent. Western medicine is called xiyao. Chinese pharmacists may suggest Chinese medicine for your ailment. This is worth a try and usually will not hurt you, particularly if the medication is herbal. If you need an antibiotic or anything more serious, you will have to visit a clinic or hospital pharmacy. At these, always ask if there is a generic version of your medication – hospitals tend to push more expensive brand medication.

Here are listings of Chinese pharmacies.

Update 12/05/2011


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