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DIALOGUE: United in Health: Dialogue with Roberta Lipson
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CEO of Chindex International Inc., and Chairman of the Board for Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics and Tianjin United Family Hospital

altAfter spending over 30 years in China, Roberta Lipson has an intimate knowledge of the healthcare system throughout the mainland. Diminutive in size, but not presence, Roberta’s warm demeanor and smile easily light up the room when she enters. Having co-founded Chindex International Inc. in 1981, Chindex’s market aim changed after the birth of her first child. The idea for United Family Healthcare (UFH) was also born over that same period of time. With much growth since the opening of their first hospital in 1997, we had the chance to speak with Roberta about the opening of the newest facility of the UFH family here in Tianjin and how Tianjin United Family Hospital hopes to be “United in Health” with members of the local community.

Can you share some general information about the opening of the Tianjin hospital?
United Family Healthcare has been involved in building and operating hospitals in China since 1997. We saw the need of the international community for a higher standard of healthcare at that time. There was a language gap for international residents when they tried to use public hospitals. So, we opened our first hospital in Beijing at that time. Very quickly our patient base became a mix of international patients and Chinese who wanted a different level of care. About three years ago, the government of Tianjin, specifically the Hexi district government, approached us with the idea of bringing a hospital to Tianjin. We started out by doing market research and decided that the growth of Tianjin was really impressive and that there was a growing need for a higher level of healthcare services in the area. We’ve spent many months training the staff and have brought in staff from altBeijing and Shanghai to ensure that we are able to offer a high level of healthcare with this new facility in Tianjin. Without strong government support in China there are a lot of obstacles. It was very meaningful to us to have strong governmental support.

Healthcare in China is radically different than in the west. What can a patient expect if they come to your facility?

Well, I think that United Family Healthcare is very different than what Chinese patients are used to in public hospitals. The whole process is very different. If a patient wants to see one of our doctors, even our very famous doctors, they don’t need to have some kind of backdoor relationship. They just need to call and make an appointment. They don’t have to wait in line to register. They don’t have to pay money before they see the doctor. Once they do see the doctor, they are given ample time to have their questions answered. Patients are seen in a private environment so they don’t have to worry about other patients overhearing their private business. We encourage patients to establish a relationship with a primary care physician who they can call “their” doctor and to develop a relationship over time where the doctor becomes a partner with the patient in making sure their physical and emotional health is maintained. United Family Healthcare is very famous for their maternity and childbirth services. What a patient can expect here, if they choose to have their baby here, is not a situation where we consider them to be a sick patient, but rather an event where the whole family can celebrate the joyous occasion of welcoming a new member to the family.

What are some of the different departments the hospital will have?
Obstetrics; Family Practice; General Surgery; Radiology; Ophthalmology; Dental; Pediatrics; Emergency Medicine; If you want a specialty appointment that’s not an emergency, we’ll collect the appointments and get a specialist from Beijing or Shanghai to come to the hospital. Our physicians will come from different facilities at certain times to see patients. If it’s an emergency appointment, we’ll get one of our consultants for the appointment.

You have a pharmacy on site. What kind of medicines can patients expect to receive from the pharmacy?
Whatever prescription the doctor writes for them or if they bring in a prescription from outside as well. We also have over the counter products available. We follow whatever the Chinese regulations are in regards to over the counter medications. We have both altwestern name brands and the chemical equivalents. What we do is that we print patient information inserts in English if the product only comes in Chinese. Our pharmacists are trained so that if you bring a prescription from overseas with the brand name we have the resources to make sure we understand what medicines you are taking. We want to make sure that we are prescribing the equivalent if you need to continue taking a medication from home and all you know is the brand name. We can make sure that you are getting the right medicine. Our pharmacists are bilingual and they really play a very different role than what the pharmacists at a public hospital play. They’re meant to be consultants to the patient and partners to the doctor. They double check on allergies and drug interactions and will spend time with the patients for every prescription on how to use the medicine and what to watch for while using a medicine. We have a very large window so patients can talk to the pharmacist with privacy and go over their individual needs.

What languages will patients be able to use when visiting the hospital?

Chinese and English are the primary languages. We are planning to have Japanese and Korean in the future. We currently have these languages in Beijing and can use our support team there at the moment. There is a very large Korean and Japanese population in Tianjin and we’ll be ready to provide service to them. We pride ourselves in our policy where we need to make language translation available to any person who walks through our door. So, if an Arabic speaking person who doesn’t speak Chinese or English walks in the door, we will get someone from Beijing to have telephone translation available. That’s a commitment we make to all of our patients in any one of our facilities. It’s interesting because during one month in Beijing we took the statistics of the nationalities of where our patients came from and we had patients from 115 different nations with many that don’t speak Chinese or English. We have a vast language capability in Beijing and we plan to have the same in Tianjin once we get to know the market better.

Will memberships be available for the new Tianjin facility?

Tianjin United Family Hospital welcomes any patient who needs our services and you don’t need any membership in advance to be seen by our doctors. That being said, yes, we have various kinds of memberships. We have corporate memberships; we have individual memberships and those memberships will afford people opportunities to have different levels of discounts and to have ongoing relationships here but we welcome any patient who needs our services and don’t require a membership in advance. Our membership is a national membership. You’re a UFH member so you can use your card in Shanghai or Beijing. Patient files will be available between facilities so if you are a member in Tianjin but get sick in Shanghai you can go into that hospital and use your patient ID number. It will be recognized in that hospital as well.
You’ve been in China for a long time. What changes have surprised you the most?
I could tell you the changes to Tianjin have surprised me the most. When the government invited us here three or four years ago to look at this opportunity, it was just completely different from what I had remembered from when I was here in the 1980’s. I was shocked because it was completely different. I’m used to seeing quick development in Beijing and Shanghai but Tianjin has just changed so much in a very short time.

Is there anything else you want to add or closing thoughts?
One thing you didn’t ask about is our charity programme, United Foundation for Children’s Health. I think you might be interested to know that all United Healthcare facilities donate 1% of our revenue to free care for orphans and poor children. It’s not 1% of our profits, but 1% of our revenues so that adds up to a lot of money nationwide. We hope to have the same program here in Tianjin. We have relationships with the poorest of the poor orphanages and medical foster homes and take care of the healthcare needs of those children who wouldn’t have access to quality healthcare otherwise. We look forward to not only serving the most fortunate members of the Tianjin community, but also the most unfortunate members as well.


By Richard Olsen II
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