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Beijing forum fosters scholarly exchange on community health care

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Participants listen in to a speaker at the Third Annual Forum on China's Primary Health Care Reform and Community Medical Services, Stanford Center at Peking University, Beijing, June 2017.
Photo credit: 
Courtesy of the Asia Health Policy Program

Sophia Hu, a Stanford student and prospective anthropology major, writes a summary of an annual forum that examines China’s health policy in comparative perspective

The Asia Health Policy Program held its Third Annual Forum on China’s Community Health Services and Primary Health Care Reform on June 22 in Beijing. The forum featured a diverse panel of speakers who addressed how to improve China’s primary care and community health care services. From discussing insurance plans to evaluating national policies and encouraging students to consider working as rural doctors, the speakers presented a wide array of research and experience. A brief summary of each presentation is detailed below.

Weichang Wang, director of the Ningxia Health Care Reform, discussed his experiences implementing a reformed health insurance payment system, originally developed by a team of researchers at Harvard and executed in Ningxia, China. Through this plan, his team created a medical insurance fund for the town that prioritized reimbursement for lower-level institutions, i.e. primary care centers. The plan resulted in increased accessibility, frequency of visits and patient satisfaction at primary care centers. It also saved money; however, some issues did arise such as how to develop accurate projections for the medical fund.

Quilin Chen of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, informed by his experience in Inner Mongolia, examined the disparity of hospitalization rates among different regions. He analyzed several factors, including financial incentives for patients and hospitals, regional differences in culture, and technological changes among primary care centers.

Jiaying Zhao of Australia National University and Shanghai University proposed using artificial intelligence (AI) to support primary care centers. She highlighted the benefits of AI, including how it can help inform physician decisions and bolster patient trust in primary care centers. Zhao, whose presentation motivated a spirited debate, shared important insights on the growing role of technology/CS in the health care field.

Jeroen Struijs of the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment gave an overview of the primary care system in the Netherlands. With one of the most highly regarded systems in the world, the Netherlands prioritizes primary care-centric health care. He described how Dutch citizens seek care with their primary care physicians first – or face a penalty – before going on to specialists or hospitals. He also explained their bundled payment system. This system pays health services providers for a “bundle” of treatment for certain diseases, helping to align provider incentives with efficient convenient care, rather than fee-for-service which financially rewards quantity of services.

Hyuncheol Kim, an assistant professor at Cornell University, examined trends in long-term care insurance and public cancer screening programs in South Korea with a regression discontinuity design. His analyses helped to explain the relative success and failure of those programs. For example, his analysis was consistent with a theory that an intervention has a higher likelihood of failing if those receiving the intervention have other channels to receive benefits, i.e. patients are able to seek private as opposed to public insurance. His presentation also inspired discussion about primary care in Korea and the challenges Korea faces – similar to those in China – in trying to move away from a hospital-centric delivery system.

Lingui Li, director of Ningxia Medical University’s Public Sector Management Centre, delivered an overview of strategies to recruit health care workers in rural areas. He emphasized the need to balance primary public health service with primary clinical service and highlighted the dearth of doctors in villages.

Jinglin Yue, deputy dean of the Zhongshan University’s Institute of Public Administration, presented about his experiences establishing a hierarchical treatment system that aims to bring more people to primary care before pursuing treatment at hospitals. He explained the various incentives of the diverse interest groups involved, and emphasized the need for future government policies that support a 2-way referral system.

Xiaoguang Yang of Fudan University’s School of Public Health also described efforts to create a two-way referral system, based on his research of an integrated health system in Shenzhen. This initiative, using a people-centered reform paradigm, introduced the concept of “community of common destiny” to Luohu, China. The reformers tried to manage supply and demand using financial incentives to help providers including hospital groups coordinate in promoting a more integrated system.

Xiaoyun Liu of Peking University examined the efficacy of a new national program that contracts with students to commit to practicing medicine in rural areas in exchange for free medical school tuition. Using surveys, he gathered data on why students chose the program and where they chose to become rural doctors, among other factors. He then used this data to propose changes to enhance the effectiveness of the program.

Guanyang Zou, a researcher at Queen Margaret University, presented an overview of international experiences or “models” of health and social care that catered specifically to aging populations. These models included the integration of ambulatory medical care and aspects of social care and long-term care services.

Bei Lu of the University of New South Wales took an economic approach toward addressing the issue of long-term care for elderly populations. In her research, she worked closely with policymakers in Qingdao, China, and used a model to estimate how long-term care insurance could be structured so that the elderly could get optimal care without imposing a disproportionate financial burden on young taxpayers and fairly compensate providers.

Each presentation contributed important knowledge toward understanding primary care in China and elicited substantial discussion. This forum would not have been possible without the participation of the numerous speakers and the generous support of the Asia Health Policy Program and Chinese affiliates.