Striking a balance between pandemic readiness and long-term hospital development

With COVID-19 now largely under control, China’s hospitals are pressing ahead with plans for further digitalisation and development, says Mr Li Xiaomin, Secretary of the First People’s Hospital of Lianyungang

While China has proven largely successful at containing the pandemic over the past year, hospitals in the country are not letting their guard down in terms of infection control and pandemic readiness. However, they are now looking to strike the balance between maintaining a pandemic-ready facility and developing their hospitals in the longer-term.

Xiaomin Li
Mr Li Xiaomin

“We are implementing precise prevention and control, which means we are now able to tighten and loosen controls,” said Mr Li Xiaomin, Secretary of the First People’s Hospital of Lianyungang.

The hospital continues to set aside a dedicated fever clinic and standalone infectious diseases ward which are located a distance away from other patients. Infection control in critical departments and areas continue to be a priority, with regular training and drills for staff being conducted, coupled with close supervision and assessments. Mr Li also pointed to ongoing capability building in infection control and disease management, which aim to equip staff with knowledge and skills across areas such as emergency care, critical care and respiratory illnesses.

Planning for the future

At the same time, long-term plans for sustained hospital growth have been brought to the fore. “We are planning for human and financial resources to be allocated into building a high quality system that can raise efficiency, lead development trends and build new cultures, to ensure a stable and sustainable development path for our hospital,” said Mr Li.

One of the advantages that Chinese public hospitals like Lianyungang enjoy is support from the authorities. The National State Council had previously published circulars for public hospitals, mapping out key tasks to be worked on to improve quality and efficiency. These underscored the importance of innovations in technologies, models and management, with plans announced to set up regional health hubs and advance clinical capabilities to treat illnesses such as cancer, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Besides these, public hospitals also receive financial investment and support in areas such as research, technical tools, and performance assessments, which help to garner trust from the public.

However, Mr Li recognised such a system may lead to public hospitals having less flexibility and lower management efficiency, as compared to private counterparts.

On his end, he is keen to improve the operational efficiency of his hospital. “We need to further promote resource integration and utilisation, manage costs in more detail and improve quality and productivity,” he emphasised.

Mr Li also noted that while there is a good pipeline of medical graduates, a standardised training system for residents and specialists, as well as continuous education will be key. As such, the hospital will be boosting training for in-demand nursing specialties, such as geriatrics, paediatrics, as well as critical and infectious diseases. There are also plans to revamp the remuneration scale for clinical frontline staff, alongside national guidelines which now allow hospitals to adjust staff pay scale and performance bonuses.

With the approach to healthcare becoming one that is life-course and integrated, there is a need to restructure the ecosystem. “We will encourage the introduction of new methods to prevent and diagnose diseases, and strengthen clinical research work,” said Mr Li. “We need to look at disease prevention, diagnosis, and recovery as an integrated service that is continuously managed.”

Building clinical and digital capabilities

The public has grown to have more diverse health needs, and so capabilities in specialist areas, diagnostics, quality and safety will need to develop to keep up with those changes. Mr Li shared that one of Lianyungang’s focus areas for the next few years will be on emergency care – they will be building a centre concentrating on acute and critical illnesses such as chest pain, stroke, trauma, and critically ill pregnant women, children and newborns, with the aim of ensuring speedy, effective and comprehensive emergency care.

The hospital will also further embrace digital. “We will be increasing investments into big data infrastructure, and optimising usage of data resources,” said Mr Li. They are backed by strong government impetus on digital health and telemedicine, with assessment and accreditation standards – for various digital systems, such as EMR, smart management, information management system and system security – being issued by the authorities over the last few years. Lianyungang is hoping to better its assessment grades in these areas in the near future.

As a fast-growing economy, China’s healthcare sector is expanding rapidly, boosted by strong policy support and growing health expenditure. While the pandemic may have been a bump in the road, cases are now largely under control and vaccinations well underway; and its healthcare system looks set to swing right back into an upward trajectory.