As an employee at a state-owned enterprise (SOE) in Xi’an, I always traveled a lot on the job, so I never had the time to take care of my parents and my two children, let alone my extended family. I lived in constant dread of the moment when they’d fall ill or needed to visit the hospital.
That nightmare came true one time when I was out of the city for work. My father fell ill and needed to visit the hospital for an examination. My wife accompanied him, but she had to ask a friend to look after our children.
Then, during another business trip, my older son woke up with a high fever at 1 a.m. My wife had no choice but to rush to the emergency room with our two children.
We will never forget that ordeal. Both children constantly cried and made trouble as my wife ran from pillar to post, paying the fees and taking the sick child to get blood tests. At that moment, I knew she felt utterly helpless.
Recounting the incident later, I lamented to a friend that I wanted to quit my SOE job, which left me no time to care for my loved ones.
This friend, a healthcare practitioner in the business for more than 20 years, knew well the trouble people face getting appointments with doctors in China. This problem cuts across society, and the bottom line is that people, both young and old, need serious help navigating China’s hospitals.
As we chatted, my friend and I increasingly shared a vision. We spoke of using our skills to build a tool that could link people with professional hospital escorts.
We believed such escorts — who help turn a visit to the hospital from a baffling affair to a more convenient experience — might resolve some difficulties that people face in the healthcare system.
It didn’t take me long to find a few friends, including medical practitioners and technical developers, to get on board.
But before launching a medical accompaniment platform to book hospital escorts, I realized I needed to understand the market. So last year, I became a professional hospital escort myself to try and gain insight into what our platform could offer.
In April this year, after accumulating nearly a year of firsthand experience, we finally launched our platform, which is available as an app or through WeChat. Our team currently has seven or eight hospital escorts, who accompany patients through their entire hospital visit, from morning to night. They all have relevant job experience, such as a background in nursing.
Some of our early clients were young migrants working in Xi’an who seemed capable of navigating the healthcare system themselves. But many hospital examinations — like gastroscopies, MRIs, and CT scans — require the patient to be accompanied. Because these migrants had few friends in the city or were unwilling to put their families through the trouble of traveling from their hometowns, our services were of help to them.
I once accompanied a young man who had insomnia and needed sleep therapy. The treatment specifically required that someone stay with him. In the end, I was by his side while he slept in the hospital.
The majority of our clients, however, are elderly parents. With many young people leaving their rural hometowns to work in bigger cities, they have little time to care for their parents back home. Should they fall ill or need to go to the hospital, such parents are in dire need of our assistance.
For example, there was a professor whose parents were both hospitalized at the same time. He was extremely busy, often traveling on business, and had no time to accompany them for the required medical examinations. So I was entrusted to go on his behalf and help with the blood tests and CT scans.
Later, he took my hand and said, “I didn’t know before that there were people who do what you do. You’ve helped me immensely.”
We sometimes ask our elderly clients why their children couldn’t accompany them to the doctor. They never complain and only say that their children were too busy to travel across the country, or that it was difficult for them to take time off from work. Others explain that they weren’t seriously ill and so didn’t want to bother their children.
Such words sometimes bring me to tears. Many don’t even tell their children when they get sick — they'll only call them if they’re particularly unwell and have no other options. Basically, they don't want to be a burden.
In Xi'an, married couples born in the 1980s generally have to care for four elders (two sets of grandparents) and two children. Now, with the government’s recent announcement of the three-child policy, young people are under even more pressure, and they can hardly cope on their own, let alone take care of an ailing parent or child.