Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 10/2011

Patient Preferences, Concerns, and Satisfaction with Providers before the Chinese Urban Health System Reform: A Social Groups Analysis

Qunhong Shen, Liyang Tang

September 2010

Asia-Pacific Research Center


Many Chinese express dissatisfaction with their healthcare system with the popular phrase Kan bing nan, kan bing gui (“medical treatment is difficult to access and expensive”). Critics have cited inefficiencies in delivery and poor quality of services. Determining the pattern of patient satisfaction with health services in China—and the causes of patient dissatisfaction—may help to improve health care not only in China but in countries in similar predicaments throughout the world. Using data from a sample of 5,036 residents from 17 provinces collected in a 2008 household survey by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, we analyze the patterns of patient preferences, concerns, and satisfaction among six social groups, classified by socioeconomic status including education level, income, and type of employment. From regression results we conclude that the gap between what patients predict their service will entail and what they perceive the service actually did entail is the key determinant of lower satisfaction, especially for patients who care most about the quality of service and patients with higher social positions. Patients from lower social groups are more concerned with price and the attitudes of medical professionals, and generally express higher satisfaction with their health care experiences than their wealthier peers, despite receiving lower-level services. Patients with higher social positions are more concerned with the technical competence and quality of providers, and struggle with what they perceive as a lack of freedom to purchase and receive their desired services, as well as long waiting times and poor physician-patient interactions. These patterns of patient satisfaction appear to be the consequence of China’s unreliable basic delivery system, lack of advanced health service supply, and distorted health market. We discuss how what we have learned about patients’ dissatisfaction can be used to restructure the delivery system to better meet and shape patients’ needs.