Chinese doctors are unhappy about their pay and work conditions. Moreover, they are in danger of physical attack by angry patients and families. The Ministry of Health estimated that in 2010, 17,243 attack and agitation incidents occurred in Chinese hospitals, an increase of almost 7,000 over five years. Patients, bereaved families of patients who have died in hospitals, and sometimes paid protestors called yinao or “medical troublemakers,” invade hospitals, berate or attack staff, create loud disruptions, and stage mock funerals.
About 30 percent of the attacks were carried out by patients, 60 percent by family members, and the remainder by others, including yinao. About 75 percent of attacks were aimed at doctors. According to a 2012 survey of nearly 6,000 Chinese physicians in 3,300 hospitals, 59 percent of doctors had been verbally assaulted and 6 percent had been physically assaulted. News accounts for 2002-2011 yielded 124 incidents of “serious violence” against hospitals, including 29 murders and 52 serious injuries. Often violence accompanies demands for cash compensation for harm to patients, including patient deaths in hospitals.
In response, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has recently announced a new set of security measures for hospitals. Approximately one thousand top-tier hospitals will now have a police presence in addition to their own security guards; alarm systems linked with local law enforcement; enhanced audio-visual surveillance systems; and security posts at entrances similar to those at airports.
The wave of violent attacks on doctors and other medical workers constitutes a significant problem in its own right. But it is also a reflection of a broader set of problems faced by today’s generation of Chinese doctors. They are badly paid, both in relation to doctors in other countries, and in relation to other Chinese professionals. As a result, doctors often supplement their low salaries in ways that strengthen the popular impression that they are corrupt, fostering still greater distrust and anger among their patients and patients’ families. A recent survey showed that 67 percent of the Chinese public does not trust doctors’ professional diagnoses and treatment.
The doctors themselves are also dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. A 2011 Chinese Medical Association survey of its members showed fewer than 20 percent of responding doctors to be satisfied with their medical practice environments, while 48 percent rated them “poor” or “very poor”. Doctors were particularly dissatisfied with their pay. They were also concerned about their work conditions.
When respondents were asked to identify sources of work pressure, the most frequent response, at 77 percent, was “high patient expectations.” Only 21 percent wanted their own children to become doctors. Interestingly, this survey showed that fewer than 10 percent of respondents blamed patients, doctors, or hospitals for their problems; the majority (83 percent) blamed “the system” for the tension between doctors and patients.
In this post, we review that system and highlight sources of doctors’ discontent and the distrust between doctors and patients.
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