A trip to the hospital can be nerve-racking, and if you go there alone, especially for the elderly, that can add to their anxiety. Patient companions, a relatively new profession in China, have risen to provide comfort and companionship to lonely hospital-goers to make their trips easier.
"The treatment is to help you have a stable renal function and lower urine protein levels. Please keep a balanced diet and get enough sleep," Li Feng, a patient companion, repeated the doctor's advice to Liu Qing (pseudonym) after they walked out of the clinic room. Liu suffers from chronic kidney disease.
These two had never met until about an hour before in front of the Anhui Provincial Hospital as agreed. Liu booked the companion service online to facilitate his hospital trip.
"I want someone to talk to when I'm in the hospital. Besides that, I sometimes feel dizzy for no reason, so I'd also like to have a brain check. However, patients are required to have a companion for ambulatory electroencephalogram," Liu explained why he hired someone for a companion, which was also his first time doing so.
With Li's help, Liu finished all clinical inquiries and physical examinations within an hour and a half. "I'm satisfied with your service, and I'll hire you again next time," Liu thanked his companion before they waved goodbye.
Li, a medical university graduate, has been working as a part-time patient companion for almost three months in Hefei, the capital of east China's Anhui Province. His job is to help clients -- the majority of whom are elderly -- register and queue at the hospital and guide them through the medical services. If needed, he also runs errands for patients, such as getting medical examination results and medicine.
According to Li, assisting hospital-goers gives him a sense of accomplishment and reduces the burden on patients and hospitals. Having worked in a hospital before, he has seen many people at a loss when faced with a complicated layout and various machines in a hospital.
The latest census statistics show that by 2020, the number of Chinese people aged 60 or above had exceeded 260 million, accounting for 18.7 percent of the country's population. Meanwhile, an increasing number of young people, who are by themselves, are working in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou.
"There is a great need for patient companion service now since many elderly people live alone. When they get sick, their children may not get back to them immediately, and our service can provide relief to both sides," said Wang Hui, the operation manager of a patient companion service company in Hefei.
There are ten full-time and about 70 part-time patient companions in Wang's company. "We charge 200 yuan (about 29.6 U.S. dollars) for half a day's service," said the manager, adding that they get around 20 orders per week on average, which would surge to over 40 in peak seasons.
Apart from the elderly who might need help at hospitals, companion service can come in handy for young people if they are afraid of visiting the hospital on their own or if a companion is needed.
"It's important to be empathetic with the patients. For some, they sorely need someone to be there to help them weather a difficult situation like a surgery," said Liu Li (pseudonym), 32, who has been a patient companion for over a year.
What surprises and touches her is that many patients would buy her milk tea or tip her through WeChat to show their gratitude. Some have even become her friends. All of these aspects motivate her to stick to the job.
To promote this new profession, Liu Li has started sharing her experience and suggestions for becoming a qualified patient companion on social media.
"My advice to those interested in the job is, firstly, be patient and responsible because this is a service-oriented job. And it would be better if you have a medical background," she added.