It always happens whenever I travel on business, there is almost always a health care emergency. I seem to be a magnet for them.

I recently returned from a business trip to China and had the opportunity to see the Chinese Health Care System up close and personal. One of my colleagues had an injury and needed to be taken to the hospital. As the "nurse" in the group, I went with her along with an interpreter. What I saw really opened my eyes to how luckly I am to practice in the United States.

When we arrived in the Emergency Department, there were no wheel chairs to be found, patients were sitting or lying on the waiting area floor. Once back in the treatment area, there were patients on stretchers, in chairs obviously brought from home, and lined up against the walls. The physicians, nurses and many patients were all wearing masks and there weren't any boxes of gloves or containers of anti-bacterial hand wash to be found.

After sometime, we discovered there was a special area for "foreigners" in another section of the hospital. So off we went through dimly lit corridors to our special area. Without an interpreter we would never have been able to register or speak to the nurses and physicians. "Pay for Service" takes on a whole new meaning in this setting. Before every examination and procedure, you had to get an estimate of the cost and then go pay for it with your credit card before the service was rendered. It was the nurses who gave the cost estimates for care. Can you imagine doing that in the U.S.?

Language was a definite barrier. The nurses spoke virtually no English but I was able to communicate with them through the interpreter. The physicians were somewhat more fluent in English medical terminology so it was less difficult communicating with them. When all else failed, hand gestures worked well.

 The care my colleague received, once we found the right place to be, was very good. The physicians and nurses appeared to be very knowledgable and skilled at their jobs despite having minimal supplies and staff.  

What lessons did I learn?

1.We often take supplies, cleanliness and being able to communicate with our patients for granted here in the U.S. In the rest of the world, that simply is not the case.

2. If you travel to a foreign country where you can't speak the native language, you better know where to find an interpreter.

3. Always carry a credit card or local money so you can pay for services.

4. If possible, travel with a nurse or other health care professional, they may save your life.

 

And finally, on the flight home, you guessed it, another medical emergency. And yes, I was the only health care provider on the plane.