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Women's health in China

Pacific Prime China looks into top issues around Women's health, where you can get care, and what is covered by your health insurance.

Posted on Oct 16, 2015 by Rob McBroom

Imagine this: You are new to China, or maybe are in a new city in China, and need to see a gynecologist. In your home country this is often as easy as going to the nearest clinic and asking to see the gynecologist. You are likely to even get the choice of whether you want to see a female or male gynecologist who will take the time to listen to you and often explain what they are doing while they are doing it. In China, however, this may not be the case - especially if you go to a public hospital or clinic.

First off, the staff likely won't speak English at a level high enough for them to accurately explain what they are doing, or to understand you when you try to explain what is wrong. Secondly, in China's public hospitals you don't get to pick your doctor, which could lead to uncomfortable situations for many women. Simply put, visiting a doctor for health issues specific to women in China is often not the best experience for many expat women.

Your health is important and it would be beneficial to know how and where you can receive care for common health issues faced by women. To help, here is an overview of the top four women's health concerns in China, where to receive care, and how this relates to health insurance.

Gynecological Care

Gynecological check-ups for many expat women are important, with some preferring to go once a year. Regardless of how often you see a gynecologist, it pays to have regular checkups, especially if you belong to a high-risk group e.g., there is a family history of cancer.

Our recommendation, in order to get checks closest to those that are given in western hospitals and clinics, is to visit an international hospital, or at the very least the VIP wing of some public hospitals. The reason for this is that the doctors are western-trained, so they will be able to explain to you the results of your pap-smear, or suggest a mammogram, etc. While doctors at the public hospital may be able to do this, the international hospitals are usually the better choice for expat women largely because the level of English is higher, which means you won't have to bring a Chinese speaking friend with you should you prefer to keep the care you are receiving private.

Another reason for going to an international hospital for gynecological care is that you will be able to pick your doctor. So if you feel uncomfortable with a male doctor, you can probably request a female doctor (if they are available), or go to another facility where a female doctor is available.   

STI checkups

Sexual education in China is often seen to be paltry in comparison to some western countries, and in the past decade China has seen a surge in STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections), which has resulted in them becoming a major health concern for the government. While the government has been implementing increased education and treatment measures related to STIs, care related to this is often seen to be impersonal and lacking privacy, especially if you go to the public health facilities.

To that end, many expats prefer to go to private facilities for STI related treatment and checkups. One option for expats in Shanghai is to consult with an organiztion like Sino-Aid (http://sinoaid.cn/std-hiv-test-shanghai.html) who can help recommend private facilities where you can get tested and treated for STIs.

In other cities private hospitals, and even the VIP wings at public hospitals (if they are available), can issue tests and treatment.

Contraceptives

Contraceptives like the UDI and birth control are available in China, with birth control being available at almost all pharmacies. We recommend first talking to a doctor in China if you are new to the country as your current birth control may not be available here, or there may be a different version available.

The good news is that a prescription is not required to purchase birth control, but it is recommended to only purchase it from the larger pharmacy chains like Watsons, or local chains, as there have been reports of fake pills being sold.

Another thing to be aware of is that the main phrase in Chinese for birth control (bìyùnyào - 避孕药) is used to refer to both the emergency morning after pill and the daily pill. It would therefore be beneficial to take a Chinese speaking friend with you to help ensure you get the right pills. Failing that, look at the labels as many emergency pills will contain the characters 事后避孕药 (shìhòu bìyùnyào).  

Termination of pregnancies   

While the idea of an abortion and its legal status may be an ongoing debate in your home country, in China almost all abortions are legal up to six-months into the pregnancy. You do have to be careful here, however, as sex-selective abortions are illegal. What we mean by this is that if you know the sex of the baby, it is officially illegal to have an abortion.

Most public hospitals offer family planning services, but these cater to the Chinese speaking population, which means you will likely need a Chinese speaking friend to help translate. Because of the often sensitive nature of abortions, many expat women would probably receive better care by going to the family planning units of international hospitals, or their gynecologist, who may be able to recommend where to receive care.

Will health insurance cover all women's health exams?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. Not every health issue will be covered by health insurance. For example, almost every provider will not cover elective abortions - if your doctor deems it medically necessary, then providers will cover it. The same can be said for contraceptives - the vast majority of providers will not cover things like birth control pills or sterilization.

STIs on the other hand are usually covered as long as they are not pre existing conditions (meaning you had an STI before you secured your health insurance plan). Our best advice would be to thoroughly read the plan documentation that was provided when you purchased your health insurance plan, as it explains what is and isn't covered.

Your other option is to talk with an expert at Pacific Prime China. We can help answer your questions and even find a suitable plan should the need arise. Contact us today to learn more.    

 

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