BEIJING – Feng Yumei used to spend hours waiting in line to get an appointment with a doctor at one of the capital’s crowded hospitals. On Wednesday it took just one minute.
The difference this time was that she was able to call ahead using 114, a free 24-hour hotline on trial at city clinics.
“It’s a real time-saver and helped me to better plan things,” she said at the outpatients department of China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Chaoyang district. “Previously, I had to come before 7 am to register for an appointment and often left empty-handed because of the crowds scrambling for limited spaces.”
After calling the hotline last Thursday, Feng, who wanted treatment for backache, was given an appointment time and number.
“I’m in great pain and I don’t want the registration process to exhaust me or give me more pain,” she said.
Almost 30 patients waiting in line with Feng at 1 pm on Wednesday had called the hotline and were served in a matter of minutes.
According to Chai Huiting, who is responsible for the hospital’s hotline service, the number of patients who made appointments the new way accounted for nearly 40 percent of outpatients. He said the hospital is considering opening another window to deal with the demand.
Nine hospitals are using the hotline in a pilot program, which will be extended to more areas at the end of July, said an official surnamed Ma at Beijing Municipal Health Bureau.
Residents who dial 114 can register with their ID card numbers and see a doctor within a week, which will help reduce the practice of people registering at crowded hospitals and then selling appointments at high prices, said Ma.
“If patients can’t keep the appointments, they should cancel ahead of time,” he said, adding that hospitals will refuse those who break appointments more than three times.
However, Fu Guiyu, a 68-year-old former nurse, told China Daily that she still prefers to use the traditional registration method rather than call the hotline.
“I’m old,” she said. “I’ll get confused about what the call handlers say and I don’t want to have to remember any numbers.”
She also did not welcome the policy against patients who break appointments. “Residents have a right to cancel and sometimes they might not go because the messages were not accurate,” she said.
Liu Dounan, an 18-year-old student from Tangshan, Hebei province, said there were still many people waiting for registrations after making appointments by phone as hospital starting times can slow the process.
To address these problems, Ma said the bureau will ask the hotline receivers to provide more specific information, especially a suggested time, for patients and establish some automatic registration procedure for those who make appointments by phone.
“The hotline still needs time to be promoted and we will make great efforts to reduce the registration time,” Ma added.