Safeguarding the physical health of the world’s most populous nation is easier said than done. Nevertheless, the ambitious President Xi Jinping has explicitly expressed that a healthy community is necessary for continued economic and social growth, and therefore a priority. Following the devastating 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, handled pragmatically by then Paramount Leader Hu Jintao, the Chinese government took several measures to update and reform the healthcare system. The updates significantly improved the overall system. However, despite these considerable efforts to manage the health of the Chinese people, another – already more deadly and infectious – coronavirus has erupted and dispersed throughout China: COVID-19.
As it spreads past the borders of the PRC, the outbreak of this novel coronavirus has not only catalyzed a state of hysteria throughout the global community but has also revealed to President Xi and the Communist Party of China (CPC) how much more energy needs to be devoted towards improving the Chinese healthcare system.
Given that the CPC has plans to increase China’s total healthcare expenditure to around 7 percent of its GDP, the Israeli healthcare system, which receives roughly the same percentage of the Israeli GDP, would serve as an excellent model. As a nation that spends a mere 7.4 percent of its GDP on healthcare (compared to the 18 percent spent by the US) and still manages to have one of the highest-ranked systems in the world, The Startup Nation is particularly well-positioned to support Beijing in bringing cutting edge healthcare solutions to China.
Nowadays, China provides health coverage to all its citizens throughout the country’s 9.6 million square km. Since the SARS, “the proportion of patients who needed hospital care but [can] not afford it declined” significantly. Additionally, health disparities between those living in low and high-income provinces have been greatly reduced. China has also made great strides to harness technology for the sake of enhancing the “patient’s experience.” For example, The CareVoice, a Shanghai-based insurance company, created an online application for consumers to easily access information about healthcare facilities and services covered by their insurance policies. The ultimate goal: “increase the efficiency and transparency of the entire process.”
Nevertheless, the Chinese health system has been configured in such a way that it compels patients to forgo primary care and head directly to the hospital. Consequently, people suffering from the common cold are left with little choice but to wake up before the sun rises and wait in a line that has already extended for blocks. The competition to be examined by a qualified doctor has become so fierce that abled-body scalpers stand in these lines to capitalize on the people’s desperation. It was, perhaps, in one of these lines that COVID-19 Patient Zero stood. Head of the Department of Communications for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Mao Qun’an, formally recognized this inherent systemic problem in 2018. “If you don’t get the grassroots [level] right,” observed Mr. Mao, “then the medical problems in China cannot be solved.”
The grassroots level, conversely, is precisely where the Israeli healthcare system excels. In 1994, the Israeli parliament ratified the National Health Insurance Law (NHIL), stipulating that all residents of Israel are entitled to essential health services. These services are required to be provided to the residents by one of the four Israeli health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Unlike China’s system, however, Israeli residents are – excluding rare exceptions – required to obtain permission from their respective primary care physician (PCP) to schedule an appointment with a specialist. It is this lack of requirement which causes long lines outside of China’s urban hospitals. Israeli residents, on the other hand, can efficiently and cheaply meet with their fully qualified PCP.
When asked how and why the Israeli healthcare system is so effective and distinguished, Director of Government to Government (G2G) Health Care Cooperation Directorate at the Israeli Ministry of Health, Hagai Dror, responded swiftly, “because of our primary care services.” These services “begin with the family doctor, community health centers.” According to Dror, because Israeli residents can access these services almost effortlessly, their situations often do not deteriorate and are therefore better equipped to maintain their health.
Founding Director, Dror, recognized the exceptionality of Israeli healthcare and instituted a plan to bring “life-saving Israeli healthcare technologies and innovation” to places that would benefit from more efficient Healthcare systems; places like China. Healthcare Israel (HCI) brings together life-saving Israeli healthcare technology and innovation with the healthcare policies and regulations required to move them forward. In 2018, Healthcare Israel established a relationship with the Chinese city of Yangzhou. A three-year plan of action was agreed upon by the necessary parties. The project provides an integrative solution that combines expertise, technologies, and information systems in the field of emergency preparedness. Israel’s Emergency Preparedness efforts include extensive training programs, operational IT systems, coherent policies and procedures, top-class equipment, collaborative R&D, and timely drills. Because of HCI’s G2G communication, it has the ability to work with all cities across China, as well as the National Health Commission.
Healthcare Israel also has the capacity to export Israeli primary care services, as well as the digital healthcare technologies needed for the system to operate. HCI offers an “all-around solution. We provide technology, medical expertise, regulation, training, and even IT systems,” says Dror, Managing Director of Healthcare Israel since 2017. The ultimate aim is that the system can function well long after HCI workers have gone home. Israel’s healthcare success at home can prove to be a success anywhere in the world. With the amount of time, energy, and resources Healthcare Israel invests into its global partners’ respective societies, this is a feat that can undoubtedly be accomplished.
The world has yet to see the full impact of the coronavirus outbreak. In China, the situation may have exacerbated the ever-dwindling trust of the people in the flawed healthcare system. Although China has undertaken many strides vis a vis their healthcare system since the conception of the barefoot doctor scheme, officials still have a long way to go to ensure the health of all 1.4 billion Chinese people. As the Chinese government takes on the daunting task of improving healthcare, it will surely consider how to incorporate a primary care model similar to the Israeli system. With the help of Healthcare Israel, China can move closer to quality health care for all the people of China.