Why more American health care systems are entering into partnerships with Chinese Hospitals

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) recently agreed to renew and strengthen their existing 3 year partnership with Jiahui International Hospital in Shanghai, a deal that was announced in the Boston Business Journal. This partnership between an American and Chinese hospital is only one of a growing number of joint ventures and business arrangements. Other notable partnerships include Johns Hopkins, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and UCLA. This trend emerged after China began to allow foreign involvement in its healthcare market in 2009, and seems to be growing. Rationale for US involvement in Chinese healthcare ranges from humanitarian, to academic, to financial. Key players involved include private health systems, pharmaceutical firms, private investment firms, and academic hospitals. This post will focus on the partnerships surrounding US academic hospitals, and how these partnerships can benefit both countries.


What China gains from these partnerships

The World Health Organization ranks China’s healthcare system #144 out of 190 ranked countries. Within this healthcare system exists a growing number of middle and upper-middle class patients that are able to afford better treatments and are demanding access to higher quality of care. American hospitals are able to provide guidance and expertise on cutting-edge techniques and medical treatments. Regarding the MGH-Jiahui partnership, Bartlett reports via the Boston Business Journal that; “MGH will help develop the physical infrastructure of the hospital, operations and governance, as well as lend expertise in nursing, patient-care services and cancer care. In the future, MGH may provide second opinions to Jiahui patients remotely.” Many of the collaborations focus on creating centers for specialty treatment, such as Cancer or Women’s Health Centers.


What America gains from these partnerships

While it may seem that these partnerships are more advantageous for the struggling Chinese healthcare landscape, American Hospitals gain many tangible and intangible resources as well. Due to the scarcity of healthcare that China has faced in the recent decades, as well as the relatively new increase in the consumer class, most Chinese patients are unfamiliar and inexperienced with new treatments that may be offered. By partnering with a Chinese hospital, the US systems are better able to access these patients, as well as gain their trust. It would also be incredibly difficult to gain referrals as well as public health insurance reimbursements if the US Hospitals were independent. In the cases where American hospitals act in consulting-only roles, they are reimbursed financially for their services.

Another advantage of US presence in the Chinese healthcare system lies in the relative ease of moving medications to market. China’s regulations are less stringent than working through the US FDA. Partnerships such as the one between Eli Lilly and Chi-Med, described by Adams in FierceBiotech,have already experienced success in their co-developed trial for a novel colorectal cancer drug.

A less tangible take-away for US practitioners may be exposure to and experience with traditional Chinese medicine that they may acquire through relationships with their Chinese counterparts. With the obesity and opioid epidemics plaguing the US, alternative therapies such as dietary modifications, movement and exercise techniques, and acupuncture for things like chronic back pain may provide supplemental options for American patients.


Additional benefits for both countries

American healthcare systems and providers can potentially gain insight into how China manages to care for a large population with limited resources. They achieved universal coverage in 2011 for their growing population of almost 1.4 billion – something the US still has yet to manage. The pressure to increase public health insurance coverage as well as increase provider reimbursements is similar to pressures that the US healthcare system is facing.

Both sides will benefit from exchange of knowledge, information, and ideas that will hopefully help patients in both countries. And finally, both will enjoy the prestige and recognition of international partnerships.