Thankfully, for most of the years I’ve lived in Hohhot, I’ve been healthy and therefore haven’t required frequent trips to the hospital. However, when my husband and I arrived last year, I was pregnant and we wanted to be able to do our prenatal care in this city, which meant it was time for me to familiarize myself with Hohhot’s health care system, something I hadn’t ever had to do before (with the exception of visiting a couple of local friends in the hospital). Since then, we’ve had to take ourselves, our girls, or accompany friends. This posted is intended to share what we’ve learned.
Where to go
First, you need to decide if you want to go to a public (government-owned) or private hospital. There are differing opinions about which is better.
Pros for public: Most people say the most well-qualified doctors want to work at the older, longer-established, more stable career choice hospitals such as these.
Cons for public: more people. They are the more trusted by locals than private hospitals which means more people go there. For you, this means longer lines, rarely (never) a private exam, longer waits for test results, and no available staff to help you with personal concerns or even knowing where to go for the next step.
Pros for private: Very helpful staff (in my experience), private (or mostly private) exams, no lines. Most of these hospitals are newer so they at least have the appearance of being cleaner and having nicer facilities.
Cons for private: Many locals believe the doctors here are doctors who could not get jobs at public hospitals. Some fees may be more expensive than at a public hospital.
What to do when you get there
After you decide where you’re going you need to know what to do when you get there. There is generally a window marked with the words gua hao 挂号。 This means “to take a number.” You’ll need to present your passport and tell them which department you want to see and they’ll assign you a number to see a doctor in that department. You also need to tell them if you prefer to see a doctor who specializes in Western medicine or Chinese medicine (or Mongolian medicine if you’re at the Mongolian medicine hospital). You’ll be charged a minimal fee (normally less than 10 RMB) and be given a credit-card-like card. This card will be used for every fee you need t pay for each test or treatment. You can use it each time you come back to the hospital and it can serve as your medical history (at least a history of what tests and treatments you had) but can’t transfer to another hospital. Next, you’ll need to make your way to the department you need and wait to see a doctor. This process seems to vary greatly from hospital to hospital. Some are very orderly with areas to wait in the hall or lobby. At others, everyone just piles into the office and crowds the doctor’s desk until he is ready to see you.
After you explain the reason for your visit, he/she may prescribe treatment, order tests, or prescribe medicine. Your next step will be to return to the main lobby where you first got your card and pay for the needed treatment, test, or medicine. It’s generally a different window than where you got the card.
After you’ve paid, take the card and go to the place where the treatment or test is to be performed or to the pharmacy. If you’re having a test, you’ll need to wait for the results then take them back to the doctor for his/her diagnosis. After the diagnosis and treatment plan are given or after you’ve picked up your medication, congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated your trip to the hospital!
Some other things to remember/consider:
-It’s truly better to take a local friend with you not only to communicate but also to help you navigate.
-It’s quite common for the doctor or other patients to be smoking in the hallways, exam rooms, anywhere, really.
-I recommend taking some hand sanitizer along with you. Soap is generally not provided in any of the bathrooms for hand-washing.
-Wheelchairs, crutches, or other devices needed are not provided and are not “standard issue.” If you need one to get around from place to place you’ll have to send a friend to some department of the hospital to rent one. Any other equipment needed can be purchased at most pharmacies or medical supply stores near the hospital.
My personal experience/recommendations about specific hospitals:
内蒙古妇幼保健医院 Inner Mongolia Maternal and Child Health Hospital (public): The only pro I can think of for this one is that you can make an appointment online before you go. My personal list of cons is very long: bad service, angry doctors, unclear procedures, high (comparatively) fees, long lines, crowded, no privacy whatsoever, and staff even stated they would prefer if foreigners didn’t come to their hospital.
内蒙古自治区人民医院 Inner Mongolia People’s Hospital (public): I’ve had more good experiences here than bad. It’s probably your best choice for finding staff and doctors who can speak English. Even those who can’t speak English know English medical terms and can generally write the name of your diagnosis, treatment, or medication in English. This hospital has the reputation for being one of the best in the province.
内蒙古国际蒙医医院 Inner Mongolia International Mongolian Medicine Hospital: I’ve had mostly good experiences here, minus one unnecessary test being performed. This hospital is relatively new and has better facilities and cleanliness than most. However, it’s also huge so it requires a lot of running aroudn to get what you need. It’s the only hospitals that I’ve seen the doctors wash their hands between seeing each patient. This hospital specializes in Mongolian medicine and even the Western medicine doctors may suggest that you see a doctor in the Mongolian medicine department, but if you’re n0t comfortable with it, just express that and they will drop the issue.
内蒙古伊生泰妇产医院 Yi Sheng Tai Maternity Hospital (private). I could strongly recommend this hospital for prenatal care. They also have a pediatric department but I would rate it only fair. The staff are really helpful and even go with you from place to place to pay, get treatments, etc, which is something no other hospital I’ve been to has done. Its location is in Jin Qiao so if you live in the city center or north, it will take some time to get there. The facilities and equipment seem better than most. The doctor we saw went out of her way to be accommodating to foreigners.
How about anyone else? Leave a comment if you’d like to recommend a hospital or one we should avoid.