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Hainan's special health zone pulls in more patients

  • China Daily |
  • Updated: Apr 10, 2023

The first and currently the only special medical zone in China, the Boao Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone in Qionghai, Hainan province, which provides world-class medical tourism services to domestic and international patients, has experienced a rapid increase in visitors.

In the first two months of this year, the number of visitors to Lecheng was 34,651, a year-on-year growth of 37.2 percent, and the combined number of patients licensed to use medical devices and drugs was 1,546, representing an annual growth of 58.40 percent.

The pilot zone was established with the approval of the State Council in 2013 and has been granted a number of preferential policies.

"Lecheng is able to make use of medical devices and drugs licensed abroad but not yet in China, providing patients with advanced international-standard diagnosis and treatment," said Yan Lukai, publicity director of the zone's administration.

The pilot zone has set up an independent regulatory regime for devices and drugs that manages approval, customs clearance, use and supervision.

With approval, companies can obtain special licenses to use first-in-class drugs and equipment, permitting patients to benefit from innovative global pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

The zone has a unique supervision platform capable of tracking the process of importing medical devices. It has a simplified approval policy that adopts online approval, and a shortened processing time from 27 days to under a week.

A bonded warehouse for imported medications has also been built to facilitate imports.

"We have introduced measures to permit specially approved drugs to be taken out of the pilot zone, which means that patients no longer have to be hospitalized here each time they need to make use of the drugs in question," Yan said. "Under the measures, patients are permitted to take a small amount of oral medications for urgent clinical and personal needs out of Lecheng."

The zone has introduced some 300 urgently needed medical devices and drugs, and become the most important pathway for innovative international medical products to enter the Chinese market. It has also established relations with nearly 80 pharmaceutical device and drug manufacturers in 18 countries, and cooperates extensively with the top 30 international companies in the field, the administration said.

Currently, 25 medical institutions operate in Lecheng, public, private and international, and 24 additional institutions are under construction or in preparation.

The first public hospital in the pilot zone, the Ruijin-Hainan Hospital affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine opened for trial operations in December, 2021. Gu Zhidong, president of the hospital, explained that Ruijin-Hainan chose Lecheng because it planned to build a second regional medical center outside Shanghai, and the construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port has created an opportunity for high-quality medical services.

"With special policies and better access to the latest international devices and methods, we can improve the overall development level of Ruijin Hospital," Gu said.

International institutions — including Singapore's top private integrated medical group Raffles, and South Korea's JK Plastic Surgery — also have a presence in the zone.

To fill the gap in insurance for imported medicines, the zone introduced its own in 2020. Last year, it covered 100 drugs for 35 common cancers, and 17 for rare diseases.

When a patient from Hainan's Qiongzhong Li and Miao autonomous county was diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma three years ago, his doctor advised him to use the latest immunotherapy drug in China, which cost about 555,500 yuan a year. Luckily, he had paid for the zone's special insurance policy, and the cost of treatment was covered.

"We hope that more people will be able to use innovative international medical devices and drugs at less expense," Yan said. "Lecheng is committed to attracting patients who would otherwise go overseas for medical treatment, healthcare and beauty treatment.

"Hopefully the medical tourism market in Lecheng will also appeal to foreigners, especially people from Southeast Asia," he added.

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