My confusing hospital experience in Chongqing

Before we start: don’t worry, I did not go to the hospital for a serious illness. I simply needed to go and take a stool test for a medical form, and the local travel clinic doesn’t do that particular test (despite the clinic having a separate area for urine and stool testing. Go figure.). Anyway, hospitals in China are pretty confusing and always full of people, so I want to share my experience just so you know what to expect.

So the travel clinic in Chongqing (near metro line 6 Huahuiyuan station) is the only place in Chongqing where you can get vaccinations and fill up medical forms for travel purposes. I’m going to study in South Korea, so I needed to fill one as well. Anyway, the form required a stool test and the clinic said it doesn’t do them. When I asked where I can do one, they just said “big hospitals”. So…..the closest big hospital to where I live is in Daping! It’s a pretty well-known hospital, and saying it’s big is an understatement. I was completely overwhelmed as soon as I stepped in!

I mean, look at the amount of branches! And this is only half of the hospital....how am I supposed to know where to go for a stool test?
I mean, look at the amount of branches! And this is only half of the hospital….how am I supposed to know where to go for a stool test?

It doesn’t help that no one spoke English. I tried using a translation program, but apparently it always translates “stool” as “chair”, and it took some time until the information desk lady understood I did not in fact come to test chairs. When she finally understood me, she gave me a slip of paper and told me to go to a counter. I went to the counter, but they were babbling in Chinese and the only word I understood as “number”. No, I do not have a number. Well, go away then. Okay then! Went back to the information desk, and the lady gave me three more slips of paper.

This just got a lot more confusing....
This just got a lot more confusing….

I finally gave up trying to understand what was going on (it turns out that in Chinese hospitals you tell them what you want done, and pay for it before seeing a doctor. In Finland it’s the opposite, so naturally this confused me.), and went home.

I went online and searched for English doctors in Chongqing. This web page came up in the results, and hoo boy was this a life saver! I ended up going to the university hospital in Yuanjiagang (metro line 2), and the information clerk immediately understood what I wanted (despite us communicating through a translation program), and told me exactly what to do and where. She even wrote me a note to give to the counter so that I would get the right service! What an angel.

Hospital card and payment slips for the procedure I want.
Hospital card and payment slips for the procedure I want.

So up on the 2nd floor I went, and paid for a hospital card (you should use this card every time you come to the hospital, it’ll eventually become your medical record) as well as for the appointment with a doctor (who was on the 3rd floor). Now, I went to the hospital around 12:30pm, and thought I could get out by 2pm. Oh, how wrong I was! Turns out that even hospitals have a siesta until 2pm, so I had to wait for over an hour until doors opened again. And after the doors opened, I had to wait another hour until my number came up (I was 9th, as you can see from the paper above). The first 30 minutes was spent with everyone trying to get to the doctors first – despite clearly having a number – and the hospital workers trying to make sense of the chaos. After that we could start with actually seeing the doctors.

This does not look crowded, but I can tell you there were like 50 people all trying to get in first.
This does not look crowded, but I can tell you there were like 50 people all trying to get in first.

So I went to see the doctor, and he actually spoke English! Well, conversational, but we had a dictionary for the difficult words. I told him what I needed, and he wrote me a permission slip to take a stool test. I was out of the room in about 2 minutes (after over 2 hours of waiting…). Then I went down to the first floor for the labs, showed them the slip, and they told me to go pay first. So up again I go, to pay 10 yuan for stool test. Down again to show the payment slip. Okay, good, here are the tubes. Went to the toilet to do my thing, took the sample back, and results were ready after 30 minutes!

The initial waiting and running around took ages, but wow! Lab results in 30 minutes? And we got the results from a machine by scanning the code in my receipt. China got something right for once, I’m sure the hospital personnel in Finland would have a heart attack if anyone suggested lab results be done in less than 2 days.

But yeah, this is how hospitals in Chongqing work. It might be different in other cities in China, but may this be a precautionary tale to everyone. So points to remember:

  1. Always pay first! So find a payment counter.
  2. Lunch break is between 12-2pm, don’t bother going to a hospital at 11:50am and expect to get out by 1pm. The doctors and nurses are on break.
  3. There are a lot of people, so you will have to wait! With the lunch break included, I spent about 4-5 hours in that hospital that day.

Hope this helped someone, and check out the link for hospitals with English-speaking doctors, it’s really helpful!

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