Retired doctor takes on hospitals to expose dark practices

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2016/5/13 0:14:53

Chen Xiaolan Photo: Courtesy of Chen Xiaolan

A military hospital in Beijing that has departments contracted to the medical group from Putian Photo: IC

Chen Xiaolan, a former doctor who is renowned for exposing the dark side of the medical industry, has targeted the notorious Putian private hospitals yet again, following the death of Wei Zexi, a college student who received ineffective treatment at a Putian clinic.  

As the nation continues to discuss the case in which Wei found out about the treatment - offered at a private clinic which was backed by a Beijing military hospital - through a paid-for promoted post on Baidu, Chen has returned to Shanghai from her investigation in Fujian Province, home of the Putian chain.

The majority of China's private clinics are owned by people from the Fujian city of Putian. Their hospitals mainly focus on gynecology, men's health and fertilities, which are notorious for scandals.

"I cannot tell you where we are at now. They [Putian private hospitals] are too influential, so I can only attack by surprise," said Chen, 64, who is busy sorting out her investigation materials. "What they've done is just too mean. It has never happened in history. Even Hitler would not have done that."

In 1997, when she was still a doctor, she began exposing the use of sub-standard medical equipment. Ever since then, she's been on a crusade to solve all kinds of problems involving medical safety.

Her efforts have won her a great deal of praise, with many calling her a hero. But at the same time, Chen has become the target of criticism and personal attacks. Some people in medical circles even called her a traitor.

"I'm not the traitor. They are, including those corrupt doctors and officials. I've been a guardian," Chen told the Global Times.

Continuing the fight

It is easy to see from Chen's Sina Weibo posts that she's battling Putian private hospitals, which make up 80 percent of China's private medical market.

"The Putian hospital chain is expanding crazily, which is actually a result of their ruining the medical order and bribing officials," wrote Chen in one of her posts.

While many of the Putian hospitals' shady practices are well-known, Chen revealed to the Global Times that she recently learned that when some medical departments at a public hospital are contracted to Putian private hospitals, the doctors are also "sold" and driven into miserable situations.

Chen heard of Putian hospitals in 1996 when she learned from her colleagues that there were so-called "venereal disease doctors" on the streets of Putian and heard several shocking stories about Putian doctors. But it was not until 2005 that she began to research these hospitals.

That year, she discovered that doctors were using fake equipment at Shanghai Changjiang Hospital, a Putian private hospital. An earlier Putian scandal revealed that a pregnant woman had been diagnosed as infertile. Chen was shocked at how such hospitals were hurting patients.

"It is absurd that they could even make mistakes in diagnosing a pregnant woman," said Chen. Unfortunately, her investigation into Changjiang hospital and other scandals involving Putian private hospitals failed to lead to large-scale official investigations.

A lonely march

Chen, a former physiotherapist, used to work at a hospital in Shanghai, and never expected to become a "guardian." But her path was set one day in 1997 when a patient asked her about a laser injection.

After carrying out experiments, Chen realized that it was actually an ultraviolet light injection that could poison patients and questioned her bosses. Ignored by the hospital, she began visiting patients herself and embarked on a campaign to investigate and expose inadequate medical instruments. To make herself qualified to lodge a complaint, she even underwent "laser injections" herself in four hospitals in Shanghai.

Since then, Chen has investigated numerous hospitals and exposed more than 20 shoddy medical products nationwide. Eight of the cases were verified and investigated by the authorities. In 2007, she exposed fraud and illegal trading in Shanghai Consonancy Hospital, which led to the cancellation of the hospital's license.

"I do this simply out of a sense of duty. It is a doctor's obligation to cure diseases and rescue dying patients. If you don't speak out, such things will continue," said Chen, adding that her desire to fight is partly due to her compassion for impoverished patients.

Chen told the Global Times that she did not have the chance to enjoy a medical education when she was young due to her "class status." She was sent to work in a village in Jiangxi Province in 1969. There she learned medicine by herself and worked as a country doctor for eight years. "I saw really poor people living in misery there," said Chen.

After returning to Shanghai in 1976, she obtained her qualifications to become a doctor, which got her a job at a hospital. But when she began to question the hospital in 1997, she was transferred to a smaller institution.

After working there for a few months, Chen again reported on various immoral practices, which eventually led to her being forced out of her post.  

Staying determined

Now in her 60s, Chen confesses that she has offended many people, even though she has just been doing "the basic thing a doctor should do."

"No doubt, I have threatened some people's interests, which they deem as dear as their life," said Chen. "I don't care what they say, because I know I'm doing the right thing."

Rumors and threats go hand in hand with praise. Besides posts online questioning her credibility, people in medical circles have spread the rumor that Chen is "mentally ill." A well-known person, she is usually stopped or even frisked when she goes to hospitals for investigations. She often carries more than one recorder as a result.

And there have also been veiled threats. "In 2008, a person who stayed in the same room as me at an event told me that 'I should know where to stop,'" Chen revealed to the Global Times.

Chen said that she's been persistent because many of the problems have not yet been addressed. "The medical environment is bad now. I have to continue."

Now, having finished the investigation into some Putian private hospitals, Chen said she will publicize it in the near future, in the hope that the relevant government departments will take action.

"If they properly crack down on them, I will pay attention to other problems. If they don't, I will continue working on it," said Chen.

Newspaper headline: The guardian of patients

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