What to Do When You're Sick in China?

You may have heard that Chinese people like to drink hot water when they get sick, but when will they do more by going to the pharmacy or hospital? If someone is very sick or uncomfortable, they will go directly to the hospital. If it's only a cold, headache, or stomachache, Chinese people usually go to the pharmacy to buy medicine. If they don’t get better after taking medicine for a few days, then they will go to the hospital. Unlike in most western countries, Chinese people prefer big public hospitals instead of clinics or private hospitals because most of the best doctors work in public hospitals.

In Chinese hospitals, unless it's a life-threatening emergency, you need to pay a fee before seeing the doctor. The process of seeing a doctor generally goes like this:

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  1. pay the registration fee
  2. get a diagnosis
  3. pay for medicine
  4. pick up medicine

Nowadays, more and more hospitals allow people to register or make an appointment online. If the hospital doesn’t allow online registration, you need to get there very early and wait in line. The registration fee differs depending on the services and doctors required. The less expensive doctors are only a few RMB; while more qualified doctors might charge several hundred RMB.

At the registration desk, Chinese people present their medical insurance card and medical records. It is the responsibility of the patient to hold on to their own medical records which the doctor will fill out during the consultation. This way, the next time the patient goes to the hospital, another doctor can easily review the patient's history no matter which hospital they went to last time.

After registration, the patient can go see the doctor but might have to wait outside the examination room if there are a lot of people. Then the doctor gives a diagnosis and possibly prescribes medicine which the patient can buy at the hospital or any pharmacy.


This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.