UNMC helps bring family medicine to China

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC public relations | November 11, 2011

Traditionally, hospital receptionists -- not primary care professionals -- triage ailing patients in Chinese medical centers.

Chinese patients don't have the luxury of a family medicine doctor who can take a closer look at the ailment, administer treatment or make a more authoritative referral after a thorough examination.

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Kent Zhao, M.D., far right, a UNMC family medicine resident, translates during a patient-physician encounter role-playing exercise at the Second Annual Shanghai Sino-U.S. Family Medicine Symposium. Jayme Nekuda, Ph.D., played the role of an angry patient and Mike Sitorius, M.D., chairman of the UNMC Department of Family Medicine, played the role of a physician dealing with the angry patient.
Thanks to Chinese health care reform, that is changing.

"We need family medicine in China," said Jianguan Yan, M.D., president of Xi'an Jiaotong University Health Science Center. "Training for family medicine is very important."

Introducing family medicine

China has established a family medicine specialty to improve access to health care and for the past few years, experts from UNMC -- a U.S. leader in primary care -- has helped in the effort to establish family medicine models in China.

The family medicine effort in China aims to reduce:

  • Transportation and financial barriers for rural populations; and
  • Burdens on city hospitals and community health centers where most people go for care.

UNMC shares expertise

Last month, Michael Sitorius, M.D., professor and chairman of the UNMC Family Medicine Department, led a contingent to conduct symposiums for more than 250 Chinese residents and family medicine physicians in the densely populated Shanghai and Xi'an -- a Midwestern city that serves as a gateway to rural China.

"The dialogue has been great. Everyone has been incredibly attentive and inquisitive and we've had good information exchanges," Dr. Sitorius said. "Together we can all learn to advance family medicine in China and the U.S."

The ball is rolling

Since 2009, UNMC faculty have visited China and conducted three symposiums. Chinese officials have visited UNMC and last year, two Chinese family physicians spent six months in Omaha to observe UNMC's primary care program.

So far, 100 physicians have been trained in family medicine at Shanghai Tonji University School of Medicine affiliate hospitals and the goal is to train 10,000 in Shanghai within five years.

"We are needed"

Fifty-two year old Yiming Zeng, M.D., is one of the country's new family medicine physicians. He practices in a rural area south of Xi'an where he and two other physicians serve a county of 209,000 residents.

"I love my job very much," Dr. Zeng said. "We are needed in this area."

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