Reporter endures painful medical procedures to expose private hospital scam
An undercover reporter has published an account of the scams prevalent at three private Chinese hospitals, describing in detail how he endured prostate inspections and was falsely diagnosed with a multitude of illnesses.
The reporter, a 27-year-old journalist for The Beijing News, visited three private hospitals from June 19 to June 21. According to his July 1 report, his first stop was Beijing Tongji Hospital, where a physician surnamed Peng haggled with him over prices, saying that he would have to pay 561 yuan (HK$709) for a lengthy check-up that included extensive blood tests. The reporter negotiated a price decrease to 161 yuan (HK$203) for a more general inspection, which included urine tests and an “especially painful” prostate examination.
“I did not see any disinfectant being used, nor was there any lubricant,” the reporter wrote. “As soon as the procedure began, I immediately could feel pain in my anus.”
After the examination, Dr Peng informed the reporter that he had serious anal inflammation and would need blood tests and ultrasound scans. The reporter refused.
The second hospital the reporter visited was Beijing Shuguang Hospital, where he subjected himself to another nearly “unbearable” prostate inspection at the hands of a Dr Liu, who applied “great force” and informed him that he would need to pay over 370 yuan (HK$467) to see results. Once again, the reporter was encouraged to undergo pricey blood tests and ultrasound scans.
“You come to my hospital to get treatment, I make the proper arrangements for you, and now you feel no need to do them?” Dr Liu reportedly said when the reporter protested.
Eventually, Dr Liu informed the reporter that his prostate was inflamed, his urethra was abnormal and his foreskin was a potential breeding ground for bacteria. Dr Liu recommended circumcision, and informed his now “terrified” patient that the procedure could be done in 20 minutes, but would likely cost several thousand yuan.
In the end, Dr Liu prescribed the reporter with medicine instead. After the reporter informed hospital staff that he did not have enough cash and would like to pay by credit card, he was advised to “let his relatives come and pay for him.”
Beijing Jingtan Hospital was the reporter’s final destination. There, he endured urethra swabs that gave him pain when urinating for the next three days. The diagnosis of these swabs, given by a Dr Song, were “petrifying”, and revealed that the reporter had fungal infections, an inflamed urethra and a dangerous number of white blood cells in his urine. Once again, circumcision was recommended, and after the reporter asked Dr Song for other alternatives, the physician called him “naïve”.
On a second visit to Beijing Jingtan Hospital to see the results of further tests, Dr Song informed the reporter that he had mycoplasma genitalium, a sexually transmitted infection that would require treatment of “thousands of dollars for at least 20 days”.
After visiting the three private hospitals, the reporter went to two public facilities – Beijing Tongren Hospital and the China-Japanese Friendship Hospital – to see if the “illnesses” prescribed truly existed. Prostate and urine examinations at the public hospitals were relatively painless, revealed no abnormal symptoms and were generally cheaper than the private facilities, with Beijing Tongren Hospital only costing 126 yuan (HK$159) and the China-Japanese Friendship Hospital192 yuan (HK$242).
“You have no major problems other than a slightly high white blood cell count,” Dr Wang of the China-Japanese Friendship Hospital told the reporter. “You certainly do not have an inflamed prostate.”
Dr Wang also said that even though the reporter may have tested positive for mycoplasma genitalium, this was a fairly common sexually transmitted infection and could be treated for about 200 yuan worth of drugs in a week’s time.
The doctors of the private hospitals either corrected their diagnoses or refunded portions of the reporter’s medical fees after they were confronted with this new information. They did so, however, with considerable reluctance.
“Tongren Hospital may be famous, but we are a specialist hospital,” Dr Song of Beijing Jingtan Hospital reportedly said when asked why he had given an exaggerated diagnosis. “Those Tongren Hospital doctors aren’t going to give you a very attentive check-up. Only a so-called ‘exaggerated diagnosis’ can help you uncover hidden illnesses.”
The scam practices prevalent in certain private Chinese hospitals are a well-known phenomenon. In 2012, another reporter went undercover to expose three hospitals in Shijiazhuang, Shenyang and Changchun, submitting cups of green tea in place of urine samples. Not a single doctor from any of the hospitals realised the trick, and each one diagnosed the reporter with false illnesses, according to a Sin Chew Daily report. The most expensive one was a so-called “nuclear energy photon treatment” that would cost over 7,000 yuan (HK$8,854). Despite these overblown diagnoses, private hospitals continue to thrive in China primarily thanks to overcrowded public hospitals, aggressive marketing tactics, and a clientele largely composed of migrant workers who may lack healthcare, insurance and proper medical education.
Praise for the undercover reporter’s story went viral on Sina Weibo on Monday, with hundreds of commentators condemning private hospital scams.
“The health industry has no conscience,” one wrote.
Other netizens acclaimed the reporter for the "great sacrifice” and "enormous pain” that he underwent to expose corruption.
“A beautiful Chinese reporter,” one comment read. “He truly has a professional spirit.”