Medical Risks and Best Practices for Organizations doing Business in China


With 1.3 billion people, China represents 20 percent of the world’s population and continues to grow rapidly. The country is incredibly diverse in terms of geography, culture and language. This complexity creates both great opportunities and massive risks for organizations doing business in China. That’s especially true when it comes to medical risks.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in several Webinars with my colleagues in China, taking a look at medical as well as security risks. Listen to the recording here, or read the full executive briefing.

In provincial capital cities and second-tier cities, hospitals and clinics may be driven by one or just a few good doctors. The facilities are often shabby and offer poor hygiene. In addition, hospitals and clinics may have limited capabilities; often the range of medical specialities, investigations, treatments and surgeries is not as comprehensive as one might expect. With overcrowded wards and a low ratio of nursing personnel to patients, there is little privacy and personal care is unreliable.

In remote areas, the few facilities lack capabilities, personnel and medical equipment. In these areas, even the best doctors aren’t able to provide much to their patients. The standard of treatment is very poor and the methods of treatment outdated.

Attitudes to treatment are quite different. For example, doctors in China often prescribe intravenous medications when Westerners expect or prefer oral medications. Also, you might expect a Western doctor to address pain relief quickly, while in China this is less of a focus (usually you won’t get any medication until you’ve paid for it!)

We see both routine and emergency health issues faced by adults traveling or living in China. Urgent medical problems requiring our assistance include accidents (especially road accidents) and sports injuries; surgical emergencies (such as appendicitis); acute vascular emergencies (such as heart attack or stroke); gastrointestinal infections (food poisoning) and respiratory infections. Expatriate residents may face mental health issues, travel health problems and sexually transmitted disease as well as more routine minor illness and chronic disease (such as diabetes or hypertension).

For smaller children there are also risks in China such as household detergents and medicines without standard tamper-proof caps; poor-quality toys with lead paint or easily breakable parts; drinking water units that dispense scolding hot water, and dangerous play areas with poorly-maintained equipment or concrete flooring.

In an emergency, there are challenges posed by underdeveloped pre-hospital care and varying quality of ambulance vehicles and staff; long response times due to poor resources and high traffic congestion, and a need for Chinese language assistance. Also remember that payment for services is required in advance.

But there are steps organizations can take to reduce the risks of traveling to China.

  • First, understand that China’s medical system is different. The standard of medical care is generally below what you can expect in other parts of the world. Cultural and language differences add to the challenges of navigating the healthcare system.
  • Prepare your organization. Ensure that your organization has reliable access to health and security information and support, as well as adequate processes and systems in place to manage the health and safety needs of your workforce.
  • Prepare your staff. Pre-screen travelers and assignees and prepare them before they travel; ensure that they are oriented upon arrival and kept informed.
  • Prepare yourself. For travelers and assignees, educate yourself and your family, plan ahead and be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Is your organization at risk? Do your Duty of Care policies extend to all employees? Are your China operations able to meet international and local standards, policies and legislation?  Have you done due diligence on your potential business partners?

Register here for the next webinar, Spotlight on India: Navigating the Barriers, on Thursday, April 26. During this webinar, my India-based colleagues will look at healthcare challenges for employees and expatriates, security and safety threats, and travel risks.

Read more about Duty of Care in the Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study. Join the discussion here.


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