Building a Platform
Over the last year, while working as a hospital escort, I’ve also come across many problems in the healthcare system.
Nowadays, most hospitals ask patients to book appointments online, but many older people aren’t aware of this. I’ve often met people who’ve taken long, cross-country train journeys for treatment at big hospitals in Xi'an, only to discover that they no longer allow in-person registration.
Such patients usually swarm the hospital guide, seeking advice on what they could do next. And when they finally understood, the available slots had run out.
That’s why I believe demand for hospital escort services will rise. If we allow people from out of town to place requests through an app or by calling us directly, we can make appointments for them in advance, and they only need to visit the hospital once they've received the confirmation. This way, they save unnecessary travel expenses, effort, and time.
Moreover, since we are well-versed in the hospital’s resources and procedures, we ensure patients get all the required tests in the shortest amount of time. From the hospitals’ perspective, we can help ease crowd congestion.
The truth is that our work is not very intensive. There isn’t a big difference between professional hospital escorts and other errand-running services — just that the latter is more general, and our service is specific. But because few have heard of hospital escorts, we don’t yet have as many customers.
Looking ahead, if we can develop a nationwide, universally recognized platform like the ones that exist for general errands, like Shansong or Ele.me, we can create better standards and improved services too.
For example, if nurses or other medical practitioners meet our standards, we can train them to work for us part-time, just like drivers who have a day job and pick up passengers after work at night for extra money.
We do have restrictions on the age of recruitment: we don’t consider candidates over 35. We do this because some patients might be in a bad mood when unwell, and professional hospital escorts may make mistakes that annoy them.
If our hospital escorts are slightly older and express themselves poorly, it may lead to conflict. But if a younger hospital escort says something they shouldn't, the client may react more leniently.
Moreover, younger people find it easier to run around from one floor to the next. Given how large hospitals are, a certain degree of physical endurance is essential.
As we continue to standardize our platform, the amount of business we receive has continued to increase every month. It’s much like when I first started to work as a hospital escort in 2020.
The first month, I couldn’t find any work at all; by the second, I had started to receive occasional gigs; in the third month, I had 5-8 customers; and by the fourth, I’d slowly built up a base of clients.
In the beginning, there were just three of us involved in the project. A year on, we’ve grown to a team of 26 people in all.
There’s still a problem that causes concern — scalpers. They lurk around hospitals preying on desperate patients. And because there’s such demand, scalpers behave as they wish and often extort huge sums from people, safe in the knowledge that they'll always find new victims.
It isn’t easy to distinguish us from scalpers. We often look for clients at the hospital entrance, and it’s hard to form a bond of trust there. The only way I distinguish myself from scalpers is by pricing.
I tell patients, “There are scalpers who guarantee that you've got a number in line. I can’t guarantee that, but if I can’t get you a reservation, I won't charge you. If I succeed, all I ask is a service fee of 50 yuan.”
My friend isn’t convinced though. He once told me: “It’s hard to draw the boundaries. Even if you only ask for a 20 yuan service fee while a scalper asks for 200 yuan, you’re both still making money from these people.”
To this day, this ethical dilemma bothers me.
Moreover, if an anxious client thinks I’m a scalper too, they’ll assume that I’ll be able to get them an appointment for the next day. I always tell them: “I can’t get you a reservation that soon — I can only register you for an appointment seven days from now.” This inevitably irks clients. I sympathize with them, but I too am frustrated because what I can offer them is limited.
The only thing that comforts me are the times I have truly been able to help a client and have received their validation in return. Many older people have encouraged me, saying: “The moment we elderly people step into the hospital, it’s as if we’re illiterate. We can’t do anything, and we don’t know whom to ask. You really are doing a good thing, young man — you’ve done so much for us old people. Please keep up the good work.”
I care more about my customers’ satisfaction and their willingness to enlist my services again in the future. I am more concerned about whether customers can tell that I am not a scalper and whether we can build a mutual sense of trust.
It’s like booking train tickets. Back when people couldn’t buy tickets online, there were scalpers at train stations in almost every city. It was so chaotic. However, since the 12306 platform — China’s official website for train tickets and related services — was launched, train ticket sales have been standardized and scalpers have virtually been eliminated.
I believe that once our hospital escort platform grows in scale, scalpers and con artists will no longer exist in healthcare, and society’s prejudices toward professional hospital escorts will disappear.
A version of this article originally appeared in Oh! Youth (36Kr). It has been translated and edited for brevity and clarity, and published with permission.