Doctors cool on emergency call

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2007, 12:00am

Most mainland doctors have yet to warm to the government's call to put lives first and treat all emergency patients irrespective of their capacity to pay, according to an online survey.

On Sunday, Vice-Minister of Health Ma Xiaowei warned hospitals not to turn away emergency cases if patients could not pay. He said his ministry would strictly implement an accountability system to measure how well frontline medical staff met their responsibility to treat emergency patients.

But a poll conducted by the leading medical professionals' website,, found 18 per cent of 1,341 doctors opposed the requirement.

The critics said those seeking emergency treatment should pay all or part of their bills before receiving care or frontline doctors would be burdened with the bills.

Only 6 per cent of doctors surveyed supported the call to make saving lives the priority and said they would comply.

The rest of those polled said they would adopt a 'wait-and-see' attitude and take a patient's financial situation into consideration when deciding whether to accept emergency cases.

At Sunday's annual health management meeting in Beijing, Mr Ma said hospitals could not deny patients care on the basis of overdue or unpaid bills. But many respondents said they had to consider the consequences of accepting poor patients.

One doctor said his hospital's medical staff were supposed to account for bills if patients left without paying, China Youth Daily reported.

'This rule [by the hospital] affects doctors' decisions [about whether to accept emergency cases]. After all, nobody wants to pay out of his own pocket for poor patients,' the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Some Shanghai hospitals have a system in place for dealing with poor emergency patients.

Nathan Liu, a surgeon at a top hospital, said they had a 'green channel' allowing frontline doctors to refer poor patients to an administrative section which would sign a guarantee letter to cover the cost of treating high-risk defaulters.

'Usually we will take in and save lives first. But if they cannot pay their bills, our hospital, sometimes our department, will cover that cost,' Dr Liu said. He said his bonus was affected if a lot of patients defaulted, but this situation happened 'quite a lot'.