Healthcare in China: Communicating with Doctors in Chinese

Healthcare in China: Communicating with Doctors in Chinese

Navigating the healthcare system in China can be a daunting experience, especially if you are not familiar with the language. Understanding key Chinese vocabulary and phrases can significantly ease the process of communicating with doctors and healthcare professionals. This comprehensive guide will provide an in-depth overview of the healthcare system in China and introduce essential Chinese terms and phrases that will help you during medical consultations.

Overview of Healthcare in China

China’s healthcare system has undergone significant transformations in recent decades. The country offers a mix of public and private healthcare services, with a focus on improving accessibility and quality of care. The system is primarily composed of public hospitals, private hospitals, and smaller clinics, each serving different needs and demographics.

Public Hospitals

Public hospitals (公立医院, gōnglì yīyuàn) are the primary healthcare providers in China. They are often large, multi-specialty institutions that cater to a vast number of patients. These hospitals are typically state-funded and provide a wide range of medical services, from basic healthcare to specialized treatments.

Public hospitals can be very crowded, and it is common to experience long wait times, especially in urban areas where the population density is high. Despite this, they offer comprehensive medical services at a lower cost compared to private facilities. In public hospitals, the quality of care can vary, with top-tier hospitals in major cities offering world-class services while those in rural areas may have limited resources.

Key Departments in Public Hospitals

Understanding the structure of public hospitals can help you navigate them more effectively. Here are some key departments:

  • Emergency Department (急诊科, jízhěn kē): For immediate medical attention and urgent care.
  • Internal Medicine (内科, nèikē): Deals with internal body systems, such as the heart, lungs, and digestive system.
  • Surgery (外科, wàikē): Handles surgical procedures and operations.
  • Pediatrics (儿科, érkē): Focuses on medical care for children.
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology (妇产科, fùchǎn kē): Specializes in women’s health, pregnancy, and childbirth.
  • Orthopedics (骨科, gǔkē): Concerns bones, joints, and muscles.
  • Dermatology (皮肤科, pífū kē): Treats skin conditions.
  • Ophthalmology (眼科, yǎnkē): Focuses on eye health and vision care.
  • Dentistry (口腔科, kǒuqiāng kē): Deals with dental health and oral hygiene.

Private Hospitals and Clinics

Private hospitals (私立医院, sīlì yīyuàn) and clinics (诊所, zhěnsuǒ) are becoming increasingly popular among expatriates and locals who prefer shorter wait times and more personalized care. These facilities often have staff who speak English and offer services in more comfortable and modern settings.

Private hospitals generally offer higher levels of comfort and shorter waiting periods, but they come at a higher cost. They are ideal for those who can afford to pay a premium for healthcare services. Additionally, private clinics and hospitals often focus on specific medical fields, providing specialized care that may not be as readily available in public hospitals.

Key Features of Private Hospitals and Clinics

  • Bilingual Staff: Many private hospitals have staff who speak both Chinese and English, making communication easier for expatriates.
  • Shorter Wait Times: Private facilities typically have fewer patients, resulting in shorter wait times for consultations and treatments.
  • Modern Facilities: Private hospitals often boast modern and comfortable amenities, providing a more pleasant environment for patients.
  • Specialized Services: Many private clinics offer specialized medical services such as dermatology, fertility treatments, and advanced diagnostics.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Another important aspect of healthcare in China is the integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (中医, zhōngyī) with Western medical practices. Many hospitals, both public and private, offer treatments such as acupuncture (针灸, zhēnjiǔ), herbal medicine (草药, cǎoyào), and therapeutic massage (推拿, tuīná). These treatments are often used in conjunction with modern medical practices to provide a holistic approach to health.

Common Traditional Chinese Medicine Practices

  • Acupuncture (针灸, zhēnjiǔ): Involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain and treat various health conditions.
  • Herbal Medicine (草药, cǎoyào): Uses plant-based remedies to treat illnesses and promote overall health.
  • Cupping Therapy (拔罐, báguàn): Involves placing cups on the skin to create suction, believed to improve blood flow and promote healing.
  • Moxibustion (艾灸, àijiǔ): A therapy that involves burning moxa (a type of dried herb) near the skin to stimulate acupuncture points.
  • Therapeutic Massage (推拿, tuīná): A form of Chinese massage that focuses on acupressure points to treat musculoskeletal issues and improve circulation.

Navigating Healthcare Services

When seeking medical attention in China, understanding the structure and process of healthcare services is crucial. Here are some steps to help you navigate the system:

  1. Registration: Upon arriving at a hospital or clinic, the first step is to register (挂号, guàhào). You will need your identification, which could be your passport if you are a foreigner. Registration can be done at the reception desk or through automated machines available in larger hospitals.
  2. Consultation: After registration, you will be directed to the appropriate department (科室, kēshì) for your consultation. It is essential to know the name of the department you need, such as Internal Medicine (内科, nèikē), Surgery (外科, wàikē), or Pediatrics (儿科, érkē).
  3. Payment: In China, medical services are generally paid for upfront. After your consultation, you will receive a bill (账单, zhàngdān) that needs to be paid before proceeding with further tests or treatments. Payment can be made at the cashier (收费处, shōufèi chù).
  4. Pharmacy: If you are prescribed medication, you will need to visit the pharmacy (药房, yàofáng) within the hospital. Prescriptions (处方, chǔfāng) are typically filled on the same day.

Tips for Navigating Healthcare Services

  • Bring Identification: Always carry your passport or a valid ID.
  • Know Your Symptoms: Clearly describe your symptoms and medical history to the doctor.
  • Use Translation Apps: Translation apps can be helpful for communication, though a translator is ideal.
  • Keep Receipts: Save all receipts for insurance claims or future reference.
  • Make Appointments: Whenever possible, make appointments (预约, yùyuē) in advance to reduce wait times.

Communicating with Doctors in Chinese

Effective communication with healthcare providers is crucial for receiving proper medical care. Here are some common phrases and vocabulary that can help you during medical consultations in China.

Basic Phrases

  1. Hello, doctor. – 你好,医生。(Nǐ hǎo, yīshēng.)
  2. I don’t speak Chinese well. – 我中文说得不好。(Wǒ zhōngwén shuō dé bù hǎo.)
  3. Do you speak English? – 你会说英语吗?(Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
  4. I need a translator. – 我需要翻译。(Wǒ xūyào fānyì.)
  5. Thank you. – 谢谢。(Xièxiè.)
  6. Goodbye. – 再见。(Zàijiàn.)

Symptoms and Conditions

When describing your symptoms to a doctor, being specific helps in getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Here are some common symptoms and conditions you might need to discuss:

  1. I have a fever. – 我发烧了。(Wǒ fāshāo le.)
  2. I have a headache. – 我头疼。(Wǒ tóuténg.)
  3. I feel nauseous. – 我觉得恶心。(Wǒ juéde ěxīn.)
  4. I have a cough. – 我咳嗽。(Wǒ késou.)
  5. I have a stomach ache. – 我肚子疼。(Wǒ dùzi téng.)
  6. I have allergies. – 我有过敏。(Wǒ yǒu guòmǐn.)
  7. I feel dizzy. – 我头晕。(Wǒ tóuyūn.)
  8. I have chest pain. – 我胸痛。(Wǒ xiōng tòng.)
  9. I have a sore throat. – 我喉咙痛。(Wǒ hóulóng tòng.)
  10. I have a rash. – 我有皮疹。(Wǒ yǒu pízhěn.)
  11. I feel tired. – 我很累。(Wǒ hěn lèi.)
  12. I have diarrhea. – 我拉肚子。(Wǒ lādùzi.)
  13. I am vomiting. – 我在呕吐。(Wǒ zài ǒutù.)
  14. I have muscle pain. – 我肌肉痛。(Wǒ jīròu tòng.)
  15. I have joint pain. – 我关节痛。(Wǒ guānjié tòng.)

Medical Procedures

Understanding common medical procedures and how to request them is essential. Here are some key phrases:

  1. I need a check-up. – 我需要体检。(Wǒ xūyào tǐjiǎn.)
  2. I need a blood test. – 我需要验血。(Wǒ xūyào yànxiě.)
  3. I need an X-ray. – 我需要拍X光片。(Wǒ xūyào pāi X guāng piàn.)
  4. I need an MRI. – 我需要核磁共振。(Wǒ xūyào hé cí gòngzhèn.)
  5. I need a CT scan. – 我需要做CT扫描。(Wǒ xūyào zuò CT sǎomiáo.)
  6. I need an ultrasound. – 我需要做超声波检查。(Wǒ xūyào zuò chāoshēngbō jiǎnchá.)
  7. I need a prescription. – 我需要处方。(Wǒ xūyào chǔfāng.)
  8. Can you give me a referral? – 你能给我转诊吗?(Nǐ néng gěi wǒ zhuǎnzhěn ma?)
  9. I need an injection. – 我需要打针。(Wǒ xūyào dǎzhēn.)
  10. I need surgery. – 我需要手术。(Wǒ xūyào shǒushù.)

Emergency Phrases

In case of an emergency, knowing how to communicate your need for immediate assistance is critical:

  1. Help! – 救命!(Jiùmìng!)
  2. I need a doctor immediately. – 我需要马上见医生。(Wǒ xūyào mǎshàng jiàn yīshēng.)
  3. Call an ambulance! – 叫救护车!(Jiào jiùhù chē!)
  4. I’m in pain. – 我很痛。(Wǒ hěn tòng.)
  5. I can’t breathe. – 我不能呼吸。(Wǒ bùnéng hūxī.)
  6. I’m having a heart attack. – 我心脏病发作了。(Wǒ xīnzàng bìng fāzuò le.)
  7. I feel faint. – 我觉得要晕倒了。(Wǒ juéde yào yūndǎo le.)
  8. There’s been an accident. – 发生了意外。(Fāshēngle yìwài.)
  9. I need help. – 我需要帮助。(Wǒ xūyào bāngzhù.)
  10. I’m bleeding. – 我在流血。(Wǒ zài liúxuè.)

Understanding the Diagnosis and Treatment

Understanding your diagnosis and treatment plan is essential for managing your health. Here are some useful phrases:

  1. What is my diagnosis? – 我的诊断是什么?(Wǒ de zhěnduàn shì shénme?)
  2. What is the treatment plan? – 治疗方案是什么?(Zhìliáo fāng’àn shì shénme?)
  3. How long will it take to recover? – 恢复需要多长时间?(Huīfù xūyào duō cháng shíjiān?)
  4. Are there any side effects? – 有什么副作用吗?(Yǒu shénme fù zuòyòng ma?)
  5. Do I need to come back for a follow-up? – 我需要回来复诊吗?(Wǒ xūyào huílái fùzhěn ma?)
  6. How should I take this medication? – 这个药怎么吃?(Zhège yào zěnme chī?)
  7. Should I avoid any foods or activities? – 我需要避免哪些食物或活动?(Wǒ xūyào bìmiǎn nǎxiē shíwù huò huódòng?)
  8. What are the next steps? – 下一步是什么?(Xià yībù shì shénme?)
  9. Is this condition serious? – 这种情况严重吗?(Zhè zhǒng qíngkuàng yánzhòng ma?)
  10. Can you explain this to me in more detail? – 你能更详细地解释一下吗?(Nǐ néng gèng xiángxì de jiěshì yīxià ma?)

Additional Useful Phrases

  1. I have an appointment. – 我有预约。(Wǒ yǒu yùyuē.)
  2. What time is my appointment? – 我预约的时间是几点?(Wǒ yùyuē de shíjiān shì jǐ diǎn?)
  3. Can you explain the procedure? – 你能解释一下这个程序吗?(Nǐ néng jiěshì yīxià zhège chéngxù ma?)
  4. I am allergic to penicillin. – 我对青霉素过敏。(Wǒ duì qīngméisù guòmǐn.)
  5. I need medical records. – 我需要病历。(Wǒ xūyào bìnglì.)
  6. Can you write that down for me? – 你能写下来给我吗?(Nǐ néng xiě xiàlái gěi wǒ ma?)
  7. Is there a hospital nearby? – 附近有医院吗?(Fùjìn yǒu yīyuàn ma?)
  8. What are the visiting hours? – 探视时间是什么时候?(Tànshì shíjiān shì shénme shíhòu?)
  9. How do I get to the hospital? – 我怎么去医院?(Wǒ zěnme qù yīyuàn?)
  10. Do I need to fast before the test? – 检查前需要禁食吗?(Jiǎnchá qián xūyào jìnshí ma?)

Vocabulary List

English Chinese Pinyin
Public hospital 公立医院 gōnglì yīyuàn
Private hospital 私立医院 sīlì yīyuàn
Clinic 诊所 zhěnsuǒ
Doctor 医生 yīshēng
Nurse 护士 hùshi
Patient 病人 bìngrén
Pharmacy 药店 yàodiàn
Prescription 处方 chǔfāng
Fever 发烧 fāshāo
Headache 头疼 tóuténg
Nausea 恶心 ěxīn
Cough 咳嗽 késou
Stomach ache 肚子疼 dùzi téng
Allergies 过敏 guòmǐn
Check-up 体检 tǐjiǎn
Blood test 验血 yànxiě
X-ray 拍X光片 pāi X guāng piàn
MRI 核磁共振 hé cí gòngzhèn
CT scan CT扫描 CT sǎomiáo
Ultrasound 超声波检查 chāoshēngbō jiǎnchá
Diagnosis 诊断 zhěnduàn
Treatment plan 治疗方案 zhìliáo fāng’àn
Side effects 副作用 fù zuòyòng
Emergency 紧急情况 jǐnjí qíngkuàng
Ambulance 救护车 jiùhù chē
Appointment 预约 yùyuē
Medical records 病历 bìnglì
Pain tòng
Heart attack 心脏病发作 xīnzàng bìng fāzuò
Breath 呼吸 hūxī
Dizziness 头晕 tóuyūn
Sore throat 喉咙痛 hóulóng tòng
Rash 皮疹 pízhěn
Fatigue 疲劳 píláo
Diarrhea 腹泻 fùxiè
Vomit 呕吐 ǒutù
Muscle pain 肌肉痛 jīròu tòng
Joint pain 关节痛 guānjié tòng
Referral 转诊 zhuǎnzhěn
Injection 注射 zhùshè
Surgery 手术 shǒushù
Visiting hours 探视时间 tànshì shíjiān


Healthcare in China can be challenging to navigate, especially if you are not fluent in Chinese. However, with some basic knowledge of essential medical vocabulary and phrases, you can communicate more effectively with doctors and healthcare professionals. This will not only make your healthcare experience more manageable but also ensure you receive the best possible care. Remember to carry a list of these phrases with you and don’t hesitate to ask for a translator if needed.

Whether you are dealing with a minor ailment or a serious medical condition, being prepared and knowing how to communicate your needs can make a significant difference in the quality of care you receive. Keep this guide handy and familiarize yourself with the key phrases and vocabulary. Your health and well-being are worth the effort.

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