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Surprising Science

Patient-On-Doctor Violence On The Rise In China

What is the Big Idea?

An intern in a hospital in Harbin city was stabbed to death by an angry patient last week. Three other doctors were seriously injured in the attack. These latest victims join a list of at least ten other medical professionals in China who were murdered last year by disgruntled patients. 

What is contributing to this surge of violence against doctors in China? 

It’s a combination of medical malpractice, expensive treatments, long lines, and protracted medical disputes. And while contending with all these issues, patients do not have a place to air their grievances, according to Kai Yue’s op-ed in the Economic Observer.

There is growing concern that if trust between doctors and patients cannot be rebuilt soon, the price will be paid in both further violence and overall declining medical care,” said Yue.

Patients aren’t the only ones suffering. Doctors are also harboring their own list of resentments. They often work ten hour days, seeing over 100 patients per shift and they’re subjected to a system that forces them to over-prescribe expensive medication in order for the hospital to survive. 

And here we thought the U.S. healthcare system was in disrepair.

What is the Significance?

Violence and other societal ills in China are not limited to the medical field, according to Yue. 

The street hawkers are angry because the police chased them and knocked over their stalls. Evicted householders throw Molotov cocktails at the authorities after their houses were illegally demolished. The patient is angry at the doctor who misdiagnosed his condition or cut out the wrong organ,” he says. 

China seems to be stuck in what Yue calls a “mutually harming” mode. “Everybody is harming everybody and can get harmed themselves,” he writes. And fixing China’s healthcare system is only the beginning to a long list of problems that seem to bring out the worst in people.

“This is why it’s not enough to blame China’s current health care problems entirely on the medical system itself. Naturally, a bad system will foster the evil in human nature, whereas a good system can encourage good deeds. If each person sticks to his job requirements and controls abuse, or at least decides ‘not to be evil,’ the bad system will eventually be transformed. Otherwise, we will wind up with a society based on standoffs, where patient-doctor, public-police, citizen-politician relationships become sore points that turn the whole of society into a sick and crippled body.”

Reforming China’s healthcare system is the easy part, says Yue. Policymakers must find new ways to finance medical care, build more hospitals, and streamline regulations to resolve medical disputes more smoothly. It’s getting people to take responsibility that is the hard part.

“Any profession will eventually lose its social value if it is not based on moral responsibility,” he said. 

Doctors in China get paid about $500 a month, according to BloombergIn order to supplement their income, they take bribes from patients and kickbacks from funeral homes for a patient’s impending death. This does not bode well with the public. The proof is in an online poll conducted by People’s Daily —the Communist Party’s news outlet–where readers were asked to express their feelings about the murder by clicking on emoticons. Sixty five percent of respondents clicked on the happy face. The sad face received 6.8 percent of the clicks.


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