January 16, 2012

China’s health care challenges, reforms and the role of leadership education

Martha Dale, Director, China programs, GHLI

How do the Chinese do it? This was a question that popped up when I spoke recently to the Silliman Fellows at their monthly seminar program. How do the Chinese manage to spend only $177 per capita on health care expenditures and accomplish such remarkable health outcomes? The average life expectancy in China is 73 years (compared to the U.S. at 78 years, World Bank 2009 data) and the United States’ annual per capita health care expenditure is a whopping $7,410? This, in a country of 1.33 billion people and an annual health expenditure of 4.6 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) – versus the US at 16.2% GDP?

That query got the assembled group thinking – what can we learn from our Chinese counterparts about getting the most from every health care dollar spent? Clearly, the intertwining of historical, social, political and economic factors have positioned China in 2012 with a unique health and health care system “portrait” and opportunities for improvement. But the U.S., likewise facing its own struggles in terms of health care financing, quality and access, may be able to take a page from the Chinese playbook.

China is regarded today as an upper middle-income country due to its rapid development trajectory over the past few decades. How impressive a thought that the US should be engaged with China in a dialogue about health policy and financing strategies. Where best to convene this dialogue? Yale Global Health Leadership Institute, where our China health care leadership programs reside, considers itself a center for debate and progress on leadership and other critical global health issues. Whether it be the GHLI annual conference held in New Haven each June, through research and education conducted with academic partners here in the US or abroad, or small, informal discussions like that with Silliman Fellows, dialogue and exchange are critical for discovering unexpected gems that will move the entire body of science forward. Let’s get talking!


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