‘Shared nurses’ to meet growing demand of elderly care
Photo: image.baidu.com
China’s sharing economy had allowed people to share many things ranging from bicycles to umbrella and chargers; now, medical resources used to be confined to hospitals are being “shared” just like everyday items. It’s widely reported recently by Chinese media that in some cities, people could just download an app and then place orders for door-to-door medical service.

Some industry analysts hail the emerging business as a successful trial of “Internet Plus” in medical care, while others are concerned the practices with no regulation and oversight in place may pose risks to both consumers and “shared” nurses. Officials with China’s National Health Commission were quoted as saying “relevant authorities are losing no time in drafting rules and policies to safeguard the involved parties’ interests and rights.”

Zhao Fei, 30, works as a first aid nurse in a big hospital in Jinan, an eastern Chinese city. From 2017, he took on a part-time job to take orders from an app called Homeincare. It’s reported by the state-run Xinhua News Agency that over 300 nurses in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province had registered to receive assigned nursing jobs by network platforms, while remaining full-time employees of public hospitals.

From the end of last year till now, over 10 cell phone apps providing “shared nurses” service have been in operation in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Jinan, Guangdong and Fujian province, through which patients could have their identification cards authenticated, register an account, log on to the platforms, upload their hospital prescriptions and then place orders for medical services they need.

It’s known that all orders need to go through an approval procedure before nurses being assigned to pay them a visit at home. According to media interviews with the platforms, nursing procedures deemed to be complicated would not be approved and patients would be recommended to go to hospitals instead. At present, regular nursing procedures like injections, intravenous fluid, blood sampling, change of dressing, urinary catheterization, airway suctioning, and taking out stitches could in most times be taken care of by “shared nurses”.

Li, and elderly who lives in the suburbs of Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian province spent 199 yuan last month to have two nurses do stoma care for him at home. The whole process lasted for around one hour and was regarded by Li as being as professional as at public hospitals. “It will save me time in traveling to and from a hospital, and queuing. For elderly people like me with mobility difficulties, the service really solves a big problem,” Li told Xinhua.

The “shared nurses” are expected to cater to the growing demand of medical care by China’s aging society. Based on a 2016 survey by China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, among the 222 million elderly people in China, 150 million are suffering from chronic illnesses; and nearly 50 million are disabled or partially disabled. And it’s expected that by 2050, the number of senior citizens being fully or partially disabled would reach 97.5 million.

In terms of expenses, although door-to-door medical care is sometimes deemed to be too expensive, in some cities including Beijing home visits by medical staff are covered by health insurance payouts from the end of 2016. In this case, patients who need the service could afford it with ease.

On the other hand, the medical care apps are welcomed by nurses in public hospitals who are often not well-paid. Zhao Fei told Xinhua he has earned over 20,000 yuan now after serving around a hundred orders online, which turns out to be quite a good supplement to his salary from the full-time work.

With no code criteria in place and in bid to avoid medical disputes, some shared nurses would videotape or record their whole process of door-to-door service. “This is for safeguarding both parties’ interests and rights,” Zhao Fei said.

Zheng Cuihong, secretary general of the Fujian Nurses Association, suggested that regulators should step in. For example, she proposed to introduce a strict approval mechanism to make sure every shared nurse is capable of providing qualified medical care service.

Many medical experts and investors of the platforms believe the service meets the needs at different levels and has a huge growth potential, although they caution that the accompanying policies and norms of conduct rolled out by the government will decide its development prospects.  


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