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An Expat’s Guide to Medical Emergencies in China

From car accidents to severe food poisoning and heart attacks, medical emergencies can happen to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. As an expat, it’s important that you are aware of how medical emergencies are dealt with in China and how to prepare yourself in case you come across them.

Pacific Prime has created this informative guide to provide you with key tips on preparing for and dealing with medical emergencies in China.

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Know Your Hospital

Since 2021, there have been over 36,570 hospitals in China, and around two-thirds of them are private hospitals. It’s important to know where your nearest hospital is located and whether they provide accident and emergency services or not.

Public Hospitals

Even though treatments in China’s public hospitals are affordable, the quality of care and cleanliness standards may not meet your expectations. Expats who wish to utilize the public system should also be able to communicate in Mandarin, as many of the staff aren’t able to speak English.

A medical staff standing alone in a dark room

VIP Clinics

Big Chinese public hospitals like Zhongshan in Shanghai have VIP clinics. Many of these VIP clinics have English-speaking doctors, offer more privacy compared to public hospitals, and recognize many insurance companies. However, they also come with higher medical expenses.

Please keep in mind that a lot of urgent VIP clinics may only operate during regular working hours, so you may end up in the local emergency room if you require emergency medical attention outside of their working hours.

Private Hospitals

Private hospitals are generally the most expensive option as they offer a very high quality of medical care, comfortable rooms, and are often equipped with better technology. Medical staff in these hospitals are able to speak English and also a range of other foreign languages in some places.

However, for medical emergencies, you should check beforehand whether the hospital has an emergency department, as not all private hospitals will have one. Also, be sure to check whether the ER runs on a 24-hour basis.

While the many perks offered by private hospitals are indeed attractive, the price tag can easily cost over ten times the price charged for the same procedure at a public hospital.

For instance, an emergency surgical procedure can cost anywhere between USD $14,400 to USD $101,213, making a comprehensive health insurance plan crucial in relieving the potential financial burden.

A medical staff getting on an ambulance car in China

The Ambulance System

To call an ambulance in China, you can simply dial the number 120. The average response time of the service is 15 minutes. You can expect an ambulance to go out to you within five minutes after your call, and you can dial 120 again if it takes longer than 20 minutes for an ambulance to get to you.

Other convenient alternatives are taking a taxi or asking a loved one or a friend to drive you to the hospital.

An Asian medical staff performing swapping test for Covid on a patient in yellow shirt

Bring Someone With You

If possible, find a bilingual friend to accompany you to the hospital, especially if you’re going to a local facility, as they can help talk to the staff. If you use an ambulance, they can also help you communicate with the personnel, e.g., requesting the ambulance to go to a specific hospital.

What’s more, having someone there with you can really speed up the whole medical emergency process, especially if you’re in great pain and finding it very difficult to collect your own medication.

Bring Your Wallet or Mobile Phone

Many private hospitals are equipped to bill international insurers directly, so expats often prefer to secure an international health insurance plan to make medical billing easy. In many public hospitals, however, a direct payment may not be accepted.

Triple A-rated hospitals tend to have what’s called a “green lane” that treats the patient immediately. That is to say, if the situation is really urgent, the doctors will conduct emergency treatment, ask for superiors’ permission, and save the life first.

While many hospitals accept cash and credit cards, you can also use mobile applications such as Alipay or WeChat Pay to make a direct payment. It’s advisable to secure an insurance to help transfer you to a suitable hospital and provide you with coverage for medical fees in China.

A medical staff's hands preparing a vaccine with gloves on

Medical Emergencies and Your Health Insurance

Understanding your health insurance policy is a very important aspect of preparing for medical emergencies in China. It’s important to learn where the nearest emergency facilities near your home, office, and your children’s school are and whether they will accept your insurance plan or not.

Working with a well-experienced insurance intermediary like Pacific Prime will also ensure that you and your family are provided with a variety of services and insurance options to choose from.

Would you like to learn more about medical emergencies and your health insurance in China? Do not hesitate to contact Pacific Prime today. Our experienced experts will be more than happy to offer impartial advice for your needs.

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.