600,000 Chinese visit overseas to seek medical treatment in 2017
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For China’s middle and high income people, travelling abroad to see a doctor is becoming routine. Over 600,000 Chinese citizens crossed the borders for medical treatment in 2017, with 80 percent of them being cancer patients, reported the Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, citing a survey. It’s predicted that the market of overseas medical care for Chinese people would be worth tens of billions of US dollars in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the Chinese official media alerted people to be more vigilant. A major fraud case has been widely reported recently in South Central China’s Hunan province, with 1,700 people in 26 provinces being cheated out of big amount of money. The case is believed to be linked to Chinese patients’ urge to seek better quality medical treatment abroad.

Chinese mainland patients are often spotted in top-ranking hospitals globally, driven by the rise of the country’s middle-class and the gap with developed countries in diagnostic, treatment and drug development.

Lung cancer has become the tumor with the highest incidence rate and mortality in the world. Three years ago, Ge was diagnosed with advanced lung adenocarcinoma. He soon found it hard to sustain the chemotherapy so decided to go to the US after being informed the country boasts more advanced treatment for the particular tumor. Now, Ge has come back home and returned to work with medication prescribed abroad.

According to the Science and Technology Daily, the five-year survival rate for tumor patients in China is at around 30 percent while in the developed countries, the survival rate has reached 70-80 percent. One reason is that the diagnostic techniques of tumors are still lagging behind, so many patients find themselves to be already in the terminal phase by the time of diagnosis. In the case, many cancer patients are turning to overseas medical institutions for curing their diseases.

“In most cases, our treatments for common types of cancers are no worse than those given in the United States,” Sun Yan, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering was quoted as saying. He indicated some types of tumors like esophageal cancer, nasopharynx cancer and liver cancer are seldom seen in western countries, and doctors there lack clinical experiences.

So, when more and more Chinese decide to travel thousands of miles for availing medical care in a foreign country, some foreigners have chosen to come to China for therapies. “(We have) made the right decision to come to China for curing my illness,” said Zahid Malik, the chief editor of Pakistan Observer, who successively received treatment at China’s National Cancer Center and the Cancer Hospital under the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

Malik in his late seventies was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer with cancer cells already metastasizing to the liver. He and his family compared tumor hospitals in the US, UK and China and finally decided to get treatment in China.

“It’s because the medical cost in China may be just one-third of that in the US or UK; also, China has some unique treatments for esophageal cancer,” he said.

“At present, expertise and medical skills of doctors in many state-owned hospitals in China is higher than those in the developed countries. He Jie, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explained, “Chinese doctors boast more clinical experiences and usually treat more patients. For most surgeons in the country, they do more operations in one year’s time than what some foreign doctors do in their whole life time.

Sun Yan admitted China does fall far behind in drug development compared with countries like the US. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration in the US approved the usage of six new drugs for lung cancer.

Still, medical experts don’t recommend patients with serious diseases to rush into overseas medical treatments. “Different medical procedures, legal systems and conditions of patients all bring potential risks,” Fu Zhenming, vice director of the Cancer Center, Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, said, noting even language barriers could create big problems.

Fu noted that not everyone could deal with medical translation. The professional interpreters need to make sure all symptoms are elaborated on and described in a precise way, so that foreign doctors could come up with the right therapies based on the information. Once there was any misunderstanding, treatments would be delayed. He said another problem is follow-up visits would be impossible for those seeking overseas medical care.

Several medical experts interviewed by the Science and Technology Daily all emphasized that some big domestic hospitals are already cooperating with foreign medical institutions through remote consultation projects. So, patients suffering from severe and odd cases could have Chinese and foreign doctors join hands in working out the best cure therapy through the remote consultation method.   

The article is translated and edited from a report by 
Science and Technology Daily. 

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