Spending a month in China earlier this year left me with a clear picture of a nation of rapid change, vast scale, and stark contrasts. All of these factors create opportunities – and challenges – for American businesses in China, and particularly for those of us in health care. Rather than attempt to delve into all the complex issues around doing business in this enormous country, I’d like to share a snapshot that left a profound impression on me.
Here’s a metaphor for the breakneck pace of change in China: Less than four years ago, during a visit to Shanghai, I remember walking in the early morning near the heart of the city and seeing thousands of bicyclists peddling their way to work in offices, shops and factories. Fast-forward only four years, and the bicycles are comparatively scarce, replaced wholesale by cars and motorcycles.
My first drive from Shanghai to Suzhou less than 10 years ago was punctuated by farm fields and open countryside. Today, that 60-mile stretch is almost one continuous development.
China’s recently adopted Five Year Plan aims to maintain growth of GDP in China at 7 percent per year over the period – lower than the 2010 growth rate of nearly 10 percent, but still very rapid economic expansion.
China's continued strong economic growth means that more change and transition is inevitable – and it will all occur on a massive scale.
The magnitude of everything one sees in China is almost unimaginable.
Indeed, the health care system operates at what I called a “10X” scale to anything I’ve ever seen or heard of in the U.S. or elsewhere.
That was certainly true of the hospitals we visited. The West China Hospital in Chengdu is the largest hospital in China and possibly the largest in the world. Last year, this hospital treated 3 million people on an outpatient basis and staged more than 76,000 surgeries – more than 200 a day! Changqiao Community Health Center in Shanghai – an outpatient hospital providing primary care to its neighborhood – handled more than 700,000 patient visits in 2010 with just over 200 employees.