Medical ethics include billing policies
By Cai Shangyao
Perhaps one of the most
talked about news stories at the end of 2005 was the huge medical
bill scandal in Northeast China's city of Harbin.
The bill for the last 67 days that 74-year-old lymphatic cancer
patient Weng Wenhui spent in the intensive care unit at a Harbin
hospital amounted to a staggering 5.5 million yuan (US$680,000).
Of that, 4 million yuan (US$493,000) was for imported medicine which
the hospital urged Weng's family to buy.
Weng's astronomical bill caused a huge media frenzy and public outcry.
Such a high hospital bill deserves our attention.
The incident revealed severe irregularities in the hospital. In
the 67 days, Weng was billed for transfusions of about 115 kilograms
of blood, and for 588 tests for blood sugar. He was said to have
taken in 87 litres of liquid through a drip in a single day.
What is more ridiculous is that after the patient's death, the hospital
continued to do blood testing for another six days, which cost an
extra 260,000 yuan (US$32,000). Obviously the hospital had falsified
medical records and bills by documenting non-existent examinations
Hospital mismanagement is an issue that should not be overlooked
and must be dealt with effectively.
There are obviously some problems with the current medical system.
Though most hospitals in China are still State-run, government funding
in health care has been slashed, and hospitals are supposed to make
profits from the drugs and medical treatments. As a result, most
hospitals worry more about profit than the health of the patients
in their care.
Moreover, there is little independent and rigorous oversight of
health care institutions, making the misconduct easy and rampant.
It can't be denied that there is an erosion of medical ethics among
physicians and administrators of health care providers. The examples
of medical immorality that get reported are just the tip of an iceberg.
The physicians and administrators should be condemned for lack of
professional ethics. However, more important are these questions:
What should be done to strengthen professional discipline and medical
ethics among health workers and what measures should be taken to
regulate medical services to prevent such immoral medical practices?
This medical bill scandal may be an extreme case, but it can serve
as a useful negative example for the future, if lessons learnt from
it can be properly absorbed and digested.
(The author is a translator and freelancer)