Private Hospital Network in China Scams Patients in Order to Profit Off Them

June 23, 2018 Updated: June 23, 2018

A leaked document has exposed how risky it can be to see a doctor in China.

South Morning Post, a state-run newspaper based in Guangxi Province bordering Vietnam, published a report on its official WeChat account revealing the contents of a 20-page document it received from multiple sources about medical malpractice at several private hospitals across China.

The report included several snapshots of the document, but the name of the private company that ran the hospitals where the malpractice took place was purposely blurred.

The document showed how the well-being of patients was neglected in favor of maximizing profits for both doctors and hospitals.

For example, in a recruitment ad for a urology doctor, the hospital specified that the job candidate must be able to do two things: increase the cost of patients’ payments per doctor’s visit and get patients to return for more treatments as often as possible, according to the document.

In return, the doctor would get a commission based on the average costs of his patients’ medical bills per month. He would earn a 10 percent commission if each patient on average paid 5,000 yuan (about $778), 11 percent if the average were 6,000 yuan (about $934), and 12 percent if it topped 7,000 yuan ($1,090).

The document gave specific examples of how doctors should diagnose their patients, even if patients do not show symptoms that require medical treatment. For example, doctors can tell patients that taking medication and getting shots alone would not be sufficient for a full recovery, and recommend that the patient get more checkups with advanced medical equipment available only at the hospital. Thus, patients would have to pay more for their so-called treatment.

Doctors could also exaggerate a patient’s illness by, for example, claiming that the illness has caused a condition that could lead to reduced sexual ability or infertility. Doctors were encouraged to fabricate stories about previous “patients” whose illnesses worsened after refusing to accept more treatment in the first place.

Since only wealthy patients can afford to spend more on treatment, the document suggests that doctors be discerning in choosing patients, determining their income levels based on their appearances, such as the types of makeup and perfume they wear and cigarettes they smoke.

The document instructs doctors to tell patients: “Between these two medicines, one is cheaper but it has a slow onset of action. The other is more expensive but it has a faster onset of action, and fewer side effects. Which do you prefer?” This could be used to determine whether patients have the income to accept more expensive medicines and treatments.

On Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, Chinese netizens said they were not surprised by the news. A netizen from southern China’s Guangdong Province wrote that the same thing could also happen at public hospitals.

A netizen from southern China’s Fujian Province reflected on the state of Chinese society, writing, “Trust is crumbling at every corner. The medical field is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer