Shanghai doctors corrupted by greed and negligence

By Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-9 18:33:01

"You'll have to wait two years before you can get pregnant." As a recently married 32-year-old who was looking forward to having a baby in time for the auspicious Year of the Monkey, these words from my physician hit me like a kick to my tummy.

During a routine pre-pregnancy examination following my wedding last month, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. The doctor informed me that a 6-centimeter tumor was growing on my uterus and could result in a miscarriage. She suggested I have the tumor removed before pregnancy.

Uterine fibroids, also called hysteromyoma, are quite common in reproductive-aged Chinese women, and the fact that it is asymptomatic means women often go untreated. I too felt nothing abnormal, and as I had never before been examined "down there" - Chinese hospitals typically discourage unmarried women from getting gynecological examinations as they believe doing so encourages sexual promiscuity - I was caught unawares.

As a woman, I was crushed by the news. But as a journalist I was skeptical about this prognosis. Chinese physicians tend to have varying diagnostic procedures and treatments, a result of China's uneven medical education and a lack of standardization. Unfortunately, I would experience this disparity firsthand - five times!

My first concern was to seek an alternative to that doctor's suggested treatment, laparoscopic surgery, which would require four incisions into my belly followed by two years of rehabilitation before pregnancy. Hoping I could just drink some tea or something, I consulted a traditional Chinese medicine specialist at the most highly regarded hospital in Shanghai.

After viewing my ultrasound from the previous hospital, this TCM doctor confirmed that taking oral medicine would be ineffective. I left his office resigned that my body would be covered in scars, but across the hall was a Western medicine specialist. With nothing to lose I sought a third opinion.

This doctor compelled me to go to their Pudong branch to receive a color Doppler ultrasound, which she said would allow her to view the tumor more clearly. I did so, paying a costly fee. When I returned to her with the results, she agreed that a laparoscopic operation was the only treatment and then brusquely dismissed me.

I concede that I was petrified by the thought of having an operation. Not since childhood have I ever received so much as an injection, so I was understandably in denial about having to go into surgery. Really I was just seeking some reassurance. Sadly, Chinese doctors are not known for being very considerate or sympathetic. Most just want to collect your fees and then kick you out of their office as quickly as possible.

But the obstinate Shanghainese in me refused to give up. I consulted with a fourth gynecologist at a public hospital. After examining my uterus, this doctor scared me out of my wits saying the tumor had grown from 6 to 8 centimeters! If that wasn't depressing enough, she also informed me that I had another gynecological disease that could deteriorate into cancer.

Advising that I undergo not just one but a series of serious operations, I returned home that day in tears. Before breaking the bad news to my husband, I did some due diligence online. My despair turned into rage after reading that third-tier hospital was notorious for pushing unnecessary and costly procedures on patients.

The fifth and final doctor I met with at a second-tier hospital was an overseas returnee from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. First, he reassured me that my tumor had in fact not grown but had just been measured from different angles by all the different doctors. He then gave me the comforting news that an ultrasound ablation operation would not only allow me to get pregnant as soon as I wanted, but that the high-intensity ultrasound heat could destroy the tumor without any invasive surgery.

Patients should always enter a hospital with the rational understanding that not all illnesses can be cured. However, we should also be able to trust that our doctors are educated and informed of all the possible procedures and treatments for our condition, and make all these options available to their patients, even if it means referring us to another hospital.

Shanghai is known for having the most cutting-edge healthcare facilities in China, but from my experience I fear greed has gotten the best of my home city. Sadly, the pursuit of financial profits at many Chinese hospitals, compounded by a gross discrepancy in medical knowledge, has severely eroded patient-physician trust.

Only by reforming China's medical education, restructuring revenue-focused hospitals and enforcing laws and regulations against medical malpractice will we ever be able to restore that trust.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

blog comments powered by Disqus