Medical Market Research in China

Medical Market Research in China

The Chinese healthcare system is based on three tiers of hospitals:

  • Tier 3: Very large hospitals (more than 500 beds), located in major cities. They provide a high level of medical care, and serve patients locally and from distant areas. Tier 3 hospitals are the centers of medical education and research. Because these are the best-equipped of Chinese hospitals, they are the first target of many medical device companies seeking to introduce new products.
  • Tier 2: Smaller (100 to 500 beds) facilities, serving their city and nearby communities. Some have academic and research programs.
  • Tier 1: Hospitals with fewer than 100 beds, providing basic medical services to their own community.

Unless they are given specific instructions, market researchers in China will probably recruit respondents from Tier 3 hospitals only, because that is where new products are evaluated and first adopted.

There are three major cities that are common locations for qualitative market research (interviews, groups) in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Chinese researchers will advise foreigners as to which city or cities would be best for their investigation, because some medical specialties are much better represented in some of these cities than in others.

There are no general practice / family practice physicians in China. Patients have to start by choosing a specialist, or they may be evaluated by a nurse who decides which specialty the patient should see, based on symptoms. Patients can also sign up for a “whole body checkup”, which may identify problems and result in referral to a specialist. (Hong Kong’s healthcare system is more like that of the US, with PCPs who can evaluate patients and refer them to a medical specialist.)

A focus group room used by Balance Healthcare Research in Shanghai.

A focus group room used by Balance Healthcare Research in Shanghai.


Observation room in Shanghai. Tight quarters are much more common outside the US.

Observation room in Shanghai. Tight quarters are much more common outside the US.


Simultaneous translator at work in Beijing. Back-room snacks are just as common in China as in the US, but with no M&Ms. For dinner, ordering out for Chinese is also just as common as in the US.

Simultaneous translator at work in Beijing. Back-room snacks are just as common in China as in the US, but with no M&Ms. For dinner, ordering out for Chinese is also just as common as in the US.


Travel Tips: China

  • US citizens need a visa to enter China. Obtaining a visa can take 6 weeks, although there are ways to speed the process. Plan well in advance.
  • The unit of Chinese currency is the yuan, which is worth about 15 US cents in late 2016. Chinese currency is also called the Renminbi, and 1 yuan is often called “one RMB”. If you want to have about US$100 with you in China, go to an ATM and check out 680 RMB.
  • Coins do not seem very useful for foreigners; a 10 yuan (10 CNY) bill is worth about US$1.50, and there is paper money with even lower values. Here is a website that shows the current value of 1 yuan, and how that value has varied in recent months.
  • Before you go, ask your market research facility or hotel for a “taxi map” that you can hand to your taxi driver. He/she may not be able to read your English-language paperwork.
  • Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are 13 hours ahead of Chicago time during the summer (Daylight Savings Time), and 14 hours ahead during the winter (Standard time). China does not have a summer time change. Here is a website that will show you what time it is right now in Beijing.
  • Beijing uses one international airport (Capital), Guangzhou has Baiyun International, and Shanghai uses two (Pudong and Hongqiao). Besides the taxi and metro options, Pudong is linked to Shanghai by a “demonstration line” magnetic levitation high-speed train.China4
  • For US travelers, electrical outlets in China require an adapter with two flat prongs at an angle to each other, and sometimes they will not work unless your adapter also has the third (ground) prong.
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