“I think health reform is not like what some say—a matter of two, three, or four years of efforts, and you get a brand-new health system. So I do not look for one-shot earthshaking effects. Instead, I focus on whether the policies we put in place will be sustainable,” says former Shanghai Vice Mayor Shen Xiaoming in an interview released today as a Web First by Health Affairs. Shanghai, China’s largest city, offers its residents the country’s most advanced health care system. Through a powerful health information technology system, there have been great strides, though challenges remain.

Shen, who served as vice mayor from January 2008 through July 2013, spoke to Tsung-Mei Cheng, Policy Research Analyst at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, in Shanghai on June 18, 2013. In addition to reading the interview, you can listen to Cheng discuss her conversation with Vice Mayor Shen and the lessons of the Shanghai experience.

Some interview highlights:

  • Since July all Shanghai doctors can see their patients’ records from any hospital.
  • In 2008 health spending was growing at a rate of 22–25 percent a year. After global budgeting, capitation, and other payment reforms, health spending growth has been reduced to 8–9 percent a year.
  • Although global budgeting has helped reduce health spending, Shen sees it as a stopgap measure that will pave the way for the development of an integrated health system.
  • To alleviate hospital crowding, Shanghai built tertiary hospitals in the outer city rings, where 60 percent of residents live. Some doctors, underused in the “mother hospitals,” were transferred to these new facilities.

“Luckily, it is relatively easier to get things done in Shanghai than in the United States….in Shanghai the government is in charge of health care, whereas in the United States the private sector plays a large role….[W]e get things done faster…because more or less, I am the chairman of the board of all the hospitals in Shanghai,” Shen concluded.