Phony doctors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 12:00am

People who come to Guangzhou from the countryside for the first time are easy prey for con artists. So-called medical miracle workers, otherwise known as yi tuo, are some of the more common con men that take rural folk for a ride. When Chen Xiao-fei and her husband came to Guangzhou two weeks ago from their hometown near Meizhou, they were hoping for a miracle.

Mrs Chen had been suffering from rheumatism, and her arms and legs were swollen and discoloured. They came for treatment at a hospital: instead, they got ripped off.

After an eight-hour train ride, the couple went directly to Nanfang Hospital in Baiyun District, only to learn the doctor who was supposed to treat them would be absent until the following Tuesday. Walking away from the hospital, the Chens met a man who told them about a nearby clinic where the physician was experienced in treating rheumatic patients.

He took them to a clinic just outside a military complex near Jinan University. In about 30 minutes, the couple had paid 3,998 yuan (HK$3,745) - virtually all the money they had brought - for a bag of traditional Chinese medicine. Mrs Chen received no physical checkup other than having her pulse checked. No formal prescription or receipt was written, and they later learned that the man who sold the medicine did not have a doctor's license.

The remedy failed to work. A friend of the couple's, Han Wei, offered to track down the man who sold them the medicine. Since local police are not authorised to get involved in cases like this, Mr Han had to do his own investigating.

He learned that three separate bureaus are involved in investigating medical fraud and the grounds for possible prosecution. The Commodity Price Bureau, Wu Jia Ju, checks to see if the price of a medicine is valid. The Medicine Examination Bureau, Yao Wu Jian Guan Ju, determines whether a medication is genuine. The Medical Practice Examination Bureau, Yi Liao Ji Gou Jian Du Ju, authenticates the licence of the physician in question.

Mrs Chen and her husband failed to get a receipt, so the price could not be checked. The Medicine Examination Bureau said it would take at least a month to test whether the medicine was genuine. And the Medical Practice Examination Bureau was hesitant to investigate the 'doctor', fearing his clinic had a military connection because of its proximity to the base.

The Chens were lucky: Mr Han got their money back by telling the 'doctor' that the medicine had made them sick.

Mrs Chen and her husband are not the first couple to fall victim to this kind of medical scam, and they certainly will not be the last. Legal reform is needed to make justice a little more accessible to such people from the countryside, who would have lost their money but for the help of a resourceful friend.