Why Are Chinese Patients Killing Their Doctors?
Image Credit: Flickr (Jing Photography)

Why Are Chinese Patients Killing Their Doctors?


Medical professionals across China are increasingly becoming victims of physical violence at the hands of disgruntled patients. In some cases, doctors charged with saving lives are having their own cut short – murdered in cold blood over financial concerns, unhappiness with the quality of treatment, or the unfortunate death of a loved one who was under their care.

The root cause of these tragedies may correlate with the surprisingly low opinion many Chinese have of doctors – considered among the most prestigious and respectable professions in Western societies.

Yesterday, hundreds of medical staff from the No. 1 People’s Hospital in Wenling staged a protest outside of their workplace. The hospital, located approximately four hours south of Shanghai, was the scene of a bloody attack that took place on October 25.

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According to the International Business Times, a patient who was dissatisfied with the results of a nasal surgery stormed into the ear, nose and throat unit carrying a butcher knife. Unable to find the doctor who performed his operation, the man turned his rage on the department’s chief physician. After stabbing him to death and injuring a second doctor, the crazed attacker fought his way through two security guards before stabbing a third doctor more than a dozen times.

“Protection measures in hospitals are almost nonexistent,” one physician in Wenling told NPR. “These security guards had no training. Actually, they can't protect us.”

What could have caused such a tragedy to occur? The relatively high cost of treatment in a country where the average monthly salary is less than $600 may be one factor.

After being apprehended by police, it was revealed that the enraged patient in the Wenling massacre earned $300 a month making mahjong tables – his corrective nasal surgery, which allegedly left him unable to sleep at night, cost $13,000.

Another issue may be the fact that the Chinese don’t view doctors in the same positive light that is commonplace in the West.

“In most western countries, medicine is a profession that guarantees prestige, high salaries – and the approval of parents who love to brag about ‘my child the doctor.’ But in China, the reverse is increasingly true: doctors are ill-paid, overworked and maligned or – while many parents would prefer that they became bankers instead,” reported The Financial Times. “Even Chinese doctors overwhelmingly prefer their children not to follow them into the profession.”

Doctors are often blamed if a patient fails to recover or dies – even if the ailment is terminal and no malpractice has occurred. Xinhua News, citing a survey from the Chinese Hospital Association, said that there were 27.3 assaults on medical staff – per hospital – in 2012.

“Social conflict, loss of trust, and unbalanced demand and supply of medical resources underlie the rise in violence,” said the survey.

This year has been a particularly bloody year for Chinese doctors. In March, courts sentenced an 18-year-old man to life in prison after murdering a hospital intern and stabbing three others. The incident occurred in Harbin, and was sparked over a disagreement about how to treat the patient’s spinal condition.

Bereaved relatives of a deceased patient in Wuhan descended on a hospital in Wuhan last September, beating a group of more than 10 security guards with metal batons. Another family in Guangzhou severely beat three doctors after they were unable to immediately collect the remains of a grandparent who had passed away.

Just last month, a female doctor in Beijing was stabbed 17 times by an unhappy patient who had spent years blogging about a throat cancer surgery that he claimed was a failure.

Chinese state media has condemned each of the attacks, with the Ministry of Public Security requiring hospitals with more than 2,000 patients to have at least 100 security guards present. But economic and legal issues still persist – including the for-profit nature of many hospitals and the lack of a clear route for patients to file malpractice claims.

Regardless of the ramped up security effort, hospital workers around China are reportedly signing up for martial arts classes in response to the recent violence, hoping that kung fu will help them fend off an angry patient.

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