China healthcare reforms in gear, but not fast enough for some

China is moving on several fronts to make it easier and safer for potential patients to use the nation's expanding healthcare system, with a new emphasis on drug regulations, devices and elderly care. Even so, American drugmakers say the government should do even more in the drugs area.

China's regulator of medical devices said it plans to expand its oversight over both the production and use of medical devices with a new policy scheduled to take effect next Feb. 2. The nation's State Council, meanwhile is pushing medical institutions serving the elderly to merge medical treatment with nursing service.

In Beijing this month, Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck ($MRK), not only urged the nation's drug regulators to speed up their review process, China Daily reported, and also called for a new look at China's pricing and reimbursement system.

Merck CEO Ken Frazier

Frazier, speaking in his other role as chairman of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, praised reforms China has made in its drug review and approval process, but said it needs to do more.

He noted China's National Reimbursement Drug List was last updated in 2009 and said regulators need to move more rapidly in bringing it up to date. At the same time, he said, its process should be transparent and predictable.

In addition, Frazier said during a meeting with the news media the ultimate result of that effort should ensure patients have access to the best, safest and most-effective drugs.

Separately, the China FDA is moving to ensure the safety not only of the devices themselves, but of their use, said Wang Shucai, an official with the agency's Department of Medical Device Supervision.

Wang told that the reforms adopted last month and to take effect in February would include CFDA inspections not only of manufacturing processes, but also of companies that maintain and repair them, and their use at the end of the line, in hospitals. A special emphasis would be high-risk devices, the deputy department head said.

Meanwhile, the highest level of China's government, the State Council, decided at its Nov. 20 meeting to push for integration of health care and nursing services for the elderly, the changes to be in place by 2017.

Under the new initiative, half of the nation's nursing homes would offer medical services as well and, ideally, local communities would create medical centers aimed at making it easier for the elderly to get the care they need. In addition, nursing homes also were encouraged to offer their services at their local medical institutions.

Under the council plan, nursing homes would be able to set up geriatric hospitals as well as internal medical departments, with an eye on offering recovery and palliative care as well. By 2020, it said, all of the medical institutions should have a "green passage" program to ease access by the elderly.

- here's a story from China Daily
- and one from
- and a release from the State Council
- and a release from CFDA on devices (Chinese language)