Hospital companions ease seniors' access to treatment

Updated: May 24, 2023 China Daily Print
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Hospital companion Zhao Haiwei (right) and a client examine an image from a CT scan at the Beijing Cancer Hospital in the capital on May 10. [Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

For many older people, modern hospitals are confusing places, so a new breed of personal assistant is emerging. Yan Dongjie reports.

In the past calendar year, Wang Yuzhu has traveled to Beijing twice, but unlike most visitors who exit the Beijing Railway Station he came to consult a doctor.

After being diagnosed with cancer, the 63-year-old had a procedure to form a permanent opening into his rectum. He was so exhausted after riding the train for 14 hours that he found it hard to get into a taxi at the roadside.

However, Wang's trip was easier than his previous visit because his daughter, Wang Yaru, had arranged for him to be accompanied by a hospital companion she had found online. Even though it was 8 pm, Zhao Haiwei, the companion, arrived at the railway station to greet Wang Yuzhu and his wife.

In recent years, hospital companions have become popular on social media platforms. As the name suggests, they accompany patients on hospital visits. People age 60 and older account for the majority of their clientele, while patients who come from outside the country's big cities also account for a significant proportion.

The various challenges that have arisen in modern medical treatment have created and even boosted this new sector.

Provincial visitors

"Many people from my hometown come to Beijing to see doctors," said Wang Yuzhu, from Urad Front Banner, Bayannuur, Inner Mongolia autonomous region. It was his third medical trip this year having already visited Baotou, Inner Mongolia, and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. This time, his destination was the Beijing Cancer Hospital.

In the waiting rooms of Beijing's major tertiary hospitals, it is common to see people from other provinces carrying their luggage as they visit for medical treatment. Some even spend the night at the hospital entrance, hoping to grab the first number to consult an expert when the options are released early in the morning.

As of 2021, there were more than 1,400 first-tier hospitals in China, while the total number was more than 30,000, according to statistics released by the National Health Commission.

After being diagnosed with rectal cancer, Wang Yuzhu had surgery at a hospital in Baotou in 2021.

Later, he had difficulty urinating, so he underwent procedures to make rectal and bladder stomas that would allow feces and urine to drain easily from his body.

In September, he came to the Peking University First Hospital in Beijing for checks on his bladder problem. Having had the bladder stoma for about 18 months, Wang Yuzhu found it inconvenient.

"The doctor looked at the data for a long time before saying 'Just remove it. If there's leakage, let it leak. It's fine.' The doctor said that wearing a fistula band for a long time can easily cause other problems," he said.

Wang Yuzhu returned to Baotou and had the bladder stoma closed. "After that, there was no more leakage," he said.

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