Health care in China: new business opportunity for foreign investors

Foreign investment now permitted in health care in China

Health care in China is a business opportunity that has been recently opened up to foreign investment. Circulars jointly issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China (NHFPC) and the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM)  – The Circular on Carrying Out the Pilot Program Establishing Wholly Foreign Owned Hospitals (“Circular”) confirms that opportunities exist for private hospitals and experienced hospital managers to participate in the growing needs of health care in China.

The Circular states that foreign investors may establish wholly foreign owned hospitals in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan by way of new establishment or M&A. However foreign investors from outside Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not allowed to establish Traditional Chinese Medicine hospitals.

The Circular focuses on the conditions required to be met by foreign investors to establish wholly foreign owned hospitals in China:

  1. the foreign investor applying to establish a wholly foreign owned hospital shall be an independent legal person with direct or indirect experiences of investment in and management of health care; and
  2. be capable of providing international level advanced hospital management and services; or
  3. have world class medical technology and equipment; or
  4. can supplement or improve deficiencies in medical services, technology, funding and facilities.

According to the Circular, the power to examine and approve the establishment of wholly foreign owned hospitals has been delegated to the provincial provincial level.

Existing health care in China

Existing Chinese hospitals, primary providers of health care in China, are inexpensive by developed world standards, but are crowded, lack privacy and frequently require patients to pay well above set rates for “extras”. Overall, their performance does not meet the aspirations of the emerging middle class.

China’s developing middle class have sufficient income to pay for a higher and more patient friendly standard of health care in China. Some go to private hospitals in China established by Chinese investors or the VIP section of existing hospitals. Others, if they cannot get what they want from health care in China, are prepared to go offshore. VIP sections of existing hospitals are typically less crowded and much more expensive, but offer the standard level of expertise.

Increasing numbers of health care tourists from China

An article in the Shanghai Daily about Chinese going to Malaysia for health care illustrates the growing need for improved health care in China. The article states that 22,000 Chinese sought health care in Malaysia in 2013, a big increase from the 8,000 in 2010, and is an example of the unmet demand for superior health care in China.

Medical tourists from China to Malaysia were identified in the article as the middle-aged, seniors, and couples seeking help in fertility treatment. Popular medical services sought were said to include cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, oncology, infertility, orthopaedics and plastic surgery. Routine but comprehensive health checks are also likely to become important.

Why go outside existing health care in China?

There are probably many factors that influence a decision to seek medical help outside the available health care in China, but quality of service and outcomes are likely to be important. A recent article from Caixin suggests that China’s cancer survival rates are significantly below those in more developed societies.

Other factors that are likely to influence the decision to go outside health care in China include the availability of highly trained foreign qualified medical staff and advanced medical technology.

Another driver influencing development of health care in China is the ageing population coupled with filial obligations to look after parents. China has changed – the filial obligations remain but highly paid younger Chinese are in positions where they cannot take the time off to personally provide care for their ageing parents. Paying for better quality health care in China is one way that filial obligations can be at least partially met. This is likely to be a growing, and profitable trend for health care in China.

Take away points

  • Investing in health care in China is a recent opportunity previously closed to foreign investors.
  • The Chinese middle class are demonstrating their willingness to pay for superior health care in China, and are also willing to seek health care offshore.
  • The number of Chinese willing to pay for perceived superior health care has increased rapidly (for example, from 8,000 visitors to Malaysia in 2010 to 22,000 in 2013). The numbers in China that can afford superior health care are likely to vastly larger than the number accessing offshore health care. Many would prefer to access superior health care in China and have the means to pay for it.
  • Filial obligations to ageing parents will be a strong growth driver for superior health care in China.

GB

© 2014 Graham Brown. All rights reserved.

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