500 million Chinese reported to now have a family doctor

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The Forum of Chinese Family Doctors was held in Beijing on the 17th of December. According to a recent report by the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), which was quoted during the forum, more than 95% of the cities in China had launched a project to sign contracts with family doctors by November 2017, and more than 500 million people had family doctors, covering more than 35% of the total population.

The figures have provoked a certain skepticism in Chinese Internet forums, where many complained that while they sincerely hoped this to be true, the fact is that they do not actually have a family doctor. What’s more, statistics published by the NHFPC in October showed 430 million people to have family doctors. Only one month later the amount of people had somehow increased by 70 million, which seems to be only the statistic shown in the new report.

Responding to the criticism, NHFPC officials said that the statistic were reliable, but the quality of the services provided by family doctors should be improved. The development of the family doctor is still in its early stages, with the doctors lacking social recognition and resources, in a country where most people simply go to a hospital when they are feeling unwell. It will thus require time and effort to perfect the services. Assurances were also given that the relevant departments within the NHFPC will soon provide further clarifications on the controversy.

As the head of a community hospital said: “the elderly in the community are all familiar with family doctors. What we need to do first is to popularize the services to special groups such as the elderly and the chronic patients, and then we will expand it to all the people”. The term family doctors may make people think of an English gentleman receiving doctors’ visits at home, but this is not what family doctors will do in China. They are mainly responsible for monitoring chronic patients, providing counselling services and announcing health management information. Another important objective they have is to improve residents’ health literacy levels. As shown in one recent research, people’s awareness rate of basic health knowledge has risen from 49.52% in 2013 to 88.67% in 2017. Family doctors can help residents to prevent diseases by conducting a healthy lifestyle.