How to Visit a Doctor in China

Oct 31, 2018 | Life In China

It’s always been a stress for me to visit a doctor. And going to a hospital, while you are in another country, can be even worse. There are so many things to worry about:

  • speaking to a doctor that might not be able to understand you;
  • understanding what he/she says back;
  • knowing what to do and where to go inside the hospital;
  • where and how you can register;
  • how to find a doctor’s office;
  • where and how to pay;
  • where can you get your prescribed medication, and so on.

That’s a lot of things to keep in mind. But don’t panic! It’s easier than you think. Let’s go through it together.

Today, I’m going to tell you how to visit a doctor in China.


Fear Of Hospitals

To be honest, hospitals scare me. I always endure the pain or discomfort till the very last moment. When I can’t bear it anymore, I go to see a doctor. Sometimes I think that my symptoms aren’t even real, and there is no point going to the hospital and bothering doctors with something that would go away in a few days.

But sometimes I get sick for real, and then visiting a doctor becomes a must. I’ve lived in China for the past  2 years, and went to hospitals at least three times: with a backache, with an ingrown toenail, and, the worst one – with pneumonia. (That time, of course, I was convinced it was a common flu – until an endless cough started to wake me up every night, and a Chinese friend finally forced me to go see a doctor.)

But I hope you’re much smarter and braver than me, and if something is bothering you – you are ready to take action.

Navigating a Chinese Hospital

Visiting a Hospital in China

Let’s start by figuring out how not to get lost in a Chinese hospital.

First thing you should keep in mind, if you don’t understand what to do or where to go – don’t be afraid to ask. There’re an information desk, nurses, and security staff on every floor. They are always eager to help.


Get a Hospital Card

Next important thing you should know about Chinese hospitals is, every hospital has got its own hospital card (就诊卡 jiùzhěnkǎ), that you MUST have. You will use it to register your appointments, the doctors will swipe it every time you visit them, and all the information about you and your diagnoses will be stored in it. It’s somewhat like your hospital ID.

chinese hospital

So if you visit a hospital for the first time, you’ll need to get a hospital card immediately. Normally, the desk that you need is located at the first floor. Ask someone at the reception where you should go to get it:

就诊卡在哪儿办? Jiùzhěnkǎ zài nǎr bàn? Where can I get a hospital card?

It’s really quick. All you need is your passport! Don’t forget it! But only for the first time. Then you will use only your card.

Register to Visit a Doctor

Now that you have your card, it’s time to register and visit the doctor’s office. You will find a registration window right there, on the first floor. (Don’t confuse it with a pharmacy, they look similar.) Find these two characters, and you won’t get lost:

挂号 guàhào

Visiting a Hospital in China

Usually, there are many 挂号 windows. What you are looking for is an ordinary registration – 普通挂号 pǔtōng guàhào. Wait in line, and very soon you’ll get a little slip – a ‘ticket’ to see your doctor. Keep it.


Don’t forget to bring some cash, because you’ll have to pay for the visit. The first visit to a physician is usually cheap: around 20-25 yuan.

Keep Track

As soon as you give the money and get a slip for your appointment, ask for a health record book – 诊断书 zhěnduànshū. They have them at the registration counter. Later, this will be the place where doctors will write down your symptoms, diagnosis, and all the details. Next time you come, bring it with you, as it will help other doctors see your health history.

Find Your Cabinet

What you have to do next is find your doctor. If you don’t see your department on the map or wall signs, the staff at information desk will help you find it.

On the little slip you got from the registration counter, you’ll find a number – that is your number in line. Once you find your department, you will see the screens on the walls with numbers, names and cabinets. It’s an automated waiting list, so just wait for your name to appear on it, and follow the number of the cabinet you’ll see on the screen.

Describe Your Problem

Once you’re in, it’s time to talk to the doctor, and tell him/her what’s bothering you. If you speak Chinese, that’s excellent. If not – body language works too! Besides, many doctors can speak a little English.

Get Feedback

Next part is a little more difficult: you need to listen carefully to what the doctor tells you.

Best case scenario, he/she will just give you a prescription.

Run Some Tests

Visiting a Hospital in China

But more probably, the doctor will send you to run some checks (X-ray, blood tests, etc). For each step, you will have to repeat the cycle you did on the first floor: pay, get a slip, bring it to the doctor. So if your doctor sends you to do an X-ray, the first thing to do will be to find a window where you can pay, and pay the fee. They normally have them on every floor. Look for the window that says:

收费 shōufèi Payments

Visiting a Hospital in China

Once you’re done, look for the floor with an x-ray cabinet/blood tests. Hand your prescription and invoice (proof of payment) in the registration window, and get a new slip with your number in line. Wait for your turn, run the tests, and go back to your doctor.

*If you go for an x-ray, mind that the results will be ready in 30 minutes. To recieve your test results a.k.a ‘report’ (报告 bàogào) at the registration window, give them your card.


Get Your Diagnosis and Prescriptions

Will all the results ready, go back to your doctor. He/she will give you a prescription, and explain how to use the medication.

Take this prescription, go back to the Payments window, and pay.

Once you’re done, look for a pharmacy: 取药处 (qǔyàochǔ) or 药房(yàofáng). It’s usually located on the first floor. Mind that pharmacy counters have many windows, and you’ll only need one – the number of the window you need will be written on the slip.

chinese hospital

To get your medication, give three things: your prescription, payment slip and your hospital card.

P.S. If you are unsure about the schedule/dosage of your meds, the details should be in the hospital card that you keep with you – and also, on the package of the medicine itself. 


Final Step

Got the medicine? Congratulations! now you’re free to go home!

The final step for you will be simple – take a rest, and start getting better.

I hope that this post will help you not to get lost in Chinese hospitals. Don’t be afraid to go there any time you feel sick. And don’t delay it until the last moment! It can be serious even if you think it’s not! Take care, because your health is the most important thing, especially during the cold autumn and upcoming winter seasons.

If there is something else you want to know about life in China – leave your comment down here or tweet us at @thatsmandarin!


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