Visiting the emergency room is never fun. The pain of waiting to find out what is wrong might sometimes be the worst pain of all.

In China, visiting the emergency room is just as stressful. However, it is different from what you might expect.

There are little differences in the Chinese ER system that can ultimately create a different experience. This may catch foreigners off guard.

Here is how the Chinese emergency room experience typically goes.

Flow charts explaining the standard emergency room procedure in China. Provided by author and the Chifeng Municipal Hospital.

A Difference in Payment

A family waits in line to pay the ER admittance fee. Photo taken by Naiwen Zhang.

In China, upon admission to the emergency room, staff will treat patients who are in critical condition. This is obviously done in order to save their lives. However, before admittance to stay in a hospital bed, payment is required. 

This contrasts with American healthcare, where full treatment and recovery come before payment.

For the wealthy, this system is quite convenient. They can ensure fast and immediate treatment. However for the less wealthy, one ER trip could cause them to go into financial debt, or potentially death.

A Difference in Specialists

A series of specialist doctors’ offices. Photo taken by Naiwen Zhang.

In the U.S., upon entering the waiting room, patients will be seen by the doctors on duty. However, these doctors are not necessarily specialists. 

If a specialist is needed, the ER doctor will contact a specialist for consultation. This process makes American ERs rather sluggish and inefficient.

Chinese ERs provide specialists immediately. At the registration desk, the ER will determine which specialist department the patient should head to. 

This makes the Chinese ER process very efficient. Patients who get in are treated to effective service with little wait time.

A Difference in Privacy

The lobby of the ER, waiting for new patients. Photo taken by Naiwen Zhang.

During the wait in the ER, Chinese patients have to deal with a lack of privacy. After being registered, Chinese patients must line up to see a doctor

This contrasts American convention, where doctors will be the ones to seek out patients after registration. 

As a result, Chinese patients will have to tell their health problems to not just the doctor, but also the line of people behind them.


What are your thoughts on the Chinese emergency room experience? Let us know in the comments!


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Chris Jiang

Chris is a student attending the College of William & Mary studying public policy and public health. He hopes to share the joys of Chinese culture with the rest of the world.
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