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Asia Health Policy Program hosts primary care conference in Beijing

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Policymakers, healthcare providers and researchers gathered at Stanford Center at Peking University to discuss community health services and primary healthcare reform, Beijing, June 2016.

China’s recent initiatives to deepen health reform, control antimicrobial resistance, and strengthen primary health services are the topics of ongoing collaborative research by the Asia Health Policy Program (AHPP) at Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and Chinese counterparts. For example, with generous support from ACON Biotechnology and in partnership with the ACON Biotech Primary Care Research Center in Hangzhou, China, AHPP hosts an annual conference on community health services and primary health care reform in China.

The conference, titled Forum on Community Health Services and Primary Health Care Reform, was held in June at the Stanford Center at Peking University (SCPKU) in Beijing. It featured distinguished policymakers, providers and researchers who discussed a wide-range of topics from China’s emerging “hierarchical medical system” for referring patients to the appropriate level of care (fenji zhenliao), as well as the practice and challenges of innovative approaches to primary care and integrated medical care systems. Yongquan Chen, director of Yong’an City Hospital and representative for the mayor’s office of Sanming, talked about health reforms in Sanming City, Fujian Province, a famous example within China. He discussed the incentives and reasoning behind the reforms, which focus on removing incentives for over-prescription of medications, demonstrating government leadership for comprehensive reforms, consolidating three agencies into one, monitoring implementation and easing tensions between doctors and patients. He pointed out the feasibility and early successes of reform by comparing public hospitals in the city in terms of their revenues and costs, reduced reliance on net revenue from medication sales, and other dimensions of performance. Finally, he addressed reform implementation and future plans on both the hospital's and the government's part.

Xiaofang Han, former director of the Beijing Municipal Development and Reform Commission, shared her personal views on the challenges patients face in navigating China’s health system (kan bing nan) and the need to improve the structure of the delivery system, including a revision to the incentives driving over-prescription in China’s fee-for-service payment system. She emphasized that patients’ distrust of primary care providers can only be overcome by demonstrating improved quality (e.g. with a systematic training program for general practitioners, GPs), and that referral systems should be based on the actual capabilities of the clinicians, not their formal labels. To reach China’s goal of over 80 percent of patients receiving management and first-contact care within their local communities will require improved training and incentive programs for newly-minted MDs, a more flexible physician labor market, and innovations in e-health and patient choice regarding gatekeeping or “contract physician services” (qianyue fuwu).        

Guangde County People's Hospital Director Mingliang Xu spoke about practices and exploration of healthcare alliances and initiatives to provide transparent incentives linking medical staff bonuses to metrics of quality. Ping Zhu from Community Healthcare Service Development and Research Center in Ningbo addressed building solid relationships between doctors and residents and providing more patient-centered services.        

Professor Yingyao Chen from Fudan University School of Public Health discussed performance assessment of community health service agencies based on his research in Shanghai. He introduced the strengths and weaknesses of the incentives embedded in the assessment system for China’s primary care providers, and concluded with suggestions for future research. Dr. Linlin Hu, associate professor at Peking Union Medical College, discussed China's progress and challenges of providing universal coverage of national essential public health services.

Professor Hufeng Wang of Renmin University of China discussed China’s vision for a “hierarchical medical system”– bearing resemblance to “integrated care,” “managed care,” or NHS-like coordination of primary and specialized care – with examples of pilot reforms from Xiamen, Zhenjiang and Dalian cities. Dr. Zuxun Lu, professor of Tongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, also discussed hierarchical medical systems and declared that China currently had a “discounted gatekeeper system.”

Dr. Yaping Du of Zhejiang University presented his research on mobile technology for management of lipid levels and with the help of a volunteer, demonstrated “Dyslipidemia Manager,” a mobile app-based product for both patients and doctors. Innovative strategies for primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases in low- and middle-income countries were the focus of remarks by Dr. Guanyang Zou from the Institute for Global Health and Development at Queen Margaret University, including its connections to international experiences with China’s current efforts in that area.  

In sum, the 2016 Forum elicited lively, evidence-based discussions about the opportunities and challenges in improving primary care and sustaining universal coverage for China.  Plans are underway for convening the third annual ACON Biotech-Stanford AHPP Forum on Community Health Services and Primary Health Care Reform in June 2017 at SCPKU. Anyone with original research or innovative experiences with primary care in China may contact Karen Eggleston regarding participation in next year’s Forum.