The Chinese healthcare market presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare providers. Dynamic and fast-paced growth, the growing middle class, an ageing population and the shift in management of many diseases from acute to chronic have contributed to a fundamental rethink of the way in which healthcare is provided in China.
One of the biggest challenges facing China is how to overcome the inequalities in access to care. Currently, there is a huge divide in access to care and appropriate medicines: the rural, hard-to-reach patient populations tend to experience limited access and sub-optimal care, whereas wealthier urban populations have access to the latest medical advancements and may even ‘over-demand’, creating further challenges associated with escalating costs and waiting times. Unravelling the complex socio-economic factors contributing to inequalities in access to care is a long-term challenge for China. However, there are lessons that can be learned from European health systems where, ‘tackling health inequalities’ has been on the agenda for years.
Across Europe there are good examples of integrated models of care, set up to make the patient’s journey through the system as simple as possible. While population dynamics will vary greatly between Europe and China, these principles of good care models and key learnings could be adopted in China. For example, the London Deanery (NHS) in the UK have co-ordinated a number of integrated care initiatives with the aim of embedding high quality clinical leadership, medical training, clinical supervision and role design within care systems in London (http://www.integratedcare.londondeanery.ac.uk).
Establishing community-based care across China will be an important method to improve access. Many community models are springing up across Europe – Sweden, in particular, has some well-established community-based models that clearly link health and social care to help reduce inequalities in access.
As part of the wider Chinese health reform plan to bring affordable healthcare to the 1.3 billion population, approximately 125 billion USD will be invested over the next three years to expand access to medicines. This will facilitate opportunities for the industry to collaborate with the increasing pool of Chinese healthcare stakeholders to help shape care pathways and improve access to care.
As China evolves through health reform, the industry – via its global networks – can help play an important role in sharing knowledge and expertise from other markets. Learning from different systems and taking on board what has and has not worked elsewhere will help in the development of a robust, relevant and effective healthcare model. The ultimate goal of this model: to expand access to medicines, quality and equality and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes across the Chinese population.