The idea of seeing a family doctor is still a new concept for many Chinese, but that may be all about to change.
60-year-old Wu Guixia has seen her general practitioner (GP), Gao Fengjuan, at the Desheng Community Health Service Center in Beijing for around three years.
Wu visits the center every month for checkups and to maintain her good health. "Dr. Gao patiently listens to my problems, clearly explains how to take my medicine, and keeps track of my health. It makes me feel at ease," says Wu.
Wu is not doctor Gao's only patient, with the GP caring for another 600 patients with the support of experienced doctors from a nearby major hospital, a nurse and a pharmacist. "We family doctors pay attention not only to residents' diseases or symptoms, but also their general health status," Gao said.
Compare with overcrowded traditional hospitals and often overworked doctors, family doctors at community health service centers work in a calmer environment, and therefore have more time to treat and assess each of their patients.
According to the Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission statists, by the end of 2016, 22.2 percent of citizens and 38.8 percent of priority groups enjoyed contractual services from family doctors in cities that piloted the program.
Priority groups for the program include the elderly, pregnant women, children, the handicapped, patients with chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and tuberculosis, as well as those with severe mental disorders, according to a guideline issued by the medical reform office under the State Council, National Health and Family Planning Commission and four other agencies.
By the end of 2017, more than 30 percent of the entire population, including over 85 percent of Chinese cities will be able to enjoy GP services.
Sichuan Province in southwest China has particularly been a key advocate for the GP program, with family doctors providing services to more than 32 million citizens by the end of last year.
Service fees are shared by health insurance funds, per capita funding for basic public health services and other charges, along with several optional paid services such as intelligence tests for children.
However, the relatively low salaries for family doctors compared to specialists at major hospitals remains a big challenge for this project.
At Desheng Community Health Service Center, He Zhihong, deputy director of the center, explained that its doctors are paid bonuses related to the number of patients and their service quality. "Every month we poll our patients about their satisfaction with the doctors," He said. "We want those who work better to be better paid."
Doctor Gao also suggested that a service fee should be offered to family doctors. "If a family doctor receives a service fee from each patient, it will generate more income and work as an incentive," she said.
To attract more family doctors, the government needs to have a more efficient plan to increase their incomes and provide more opportunities for their promotion and advancement, Guo Yanhong, deputy director of the National Health Planning Commission Medical and Health Hospital pointed out.