Thanks to China's medical reform, patients in one area of China can access imported drugs and medical equipment before they reach the rest of the domestic market.
A three-year-old boy has received an artificial cochlea implant at the Boao Super Hospital, at the Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone, in Boao, Hainan Province. His mother contacted the American manufacturer and learned it can be used there.
"If I use other products available at home, when my kid needs Magnetic Resonance Imaging, his head has to be cut to get the cochlea out. This one doesn't require that," said Yang Jing, mother of the deaf boy.
That artificial cochlea she chose for her son became available in America in 2018. The first surgery using the artificial cochlea on the Chinese mainland was performed at the Boao hospital last September. But it has not been approved to enter the rest of the market yet.
The Boao Super Hospital is one of the five medical institutions in Lecheng Pilot Zone where patients can apply to use drugs and medical equipment from overseas providers before the products are allowed to actually enter the Chinese market. Every year, 600,000 Chinese go abroad to see doctors. Lecheng is offering them another option.
"Most of such patients used to go overseas for surgeries, or to Hong Kong and Taiwan. This product carries additional tariffs, but the operation fee is much cheaper here, so in the end the cost is similar. And it's more convenient here," said ear specialist Zhang Jin.
Authorities say over 50 types of such overseas drugs and medical equipment have been specially approved in Lecheng so far, thanks to the country's further reform and opening up.
The products are not covered by China's basic healthcare insurance, but related fees can be covered. Boao Super Hospital Deputy Executive Dean Ye Juzhen said last September that a new plan was launched to allow patients to bring drugs out of the Pilot Zone. "But we're still waiting for more details to implement that. There will be limitations on the quantity."
The policy is welcomed by pharmaceutical companies and equipment makers, too. Because the data gathered here could help to greatly speed up the products' approval by Chinese authorities in the mainland market.
It's also expected to attract the country's top doctors for part-time or full-time jobs to use the world's most advanced medical technology, and in the end, to benefit more patients.