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Preventing Blindness in China: The Story of Aier Eye Hospital

Yan Yan was a 10-year-old girl living with her grandmother in a small, poor village in Ghizhou province, China, when her brother, while playing with a home-made bow and arrow, accidentally shot her. The arrow lacerated her eye. Each doctor Yan Yan visited immediately after the accident told her she would never recover sight in the injured eye. They were wrong.

Doctors at Aier Eye Hospital Group, an IFC client with a network of specialty eye hospitals across China, heard about Yan Yan’s case and arranged to see her at the local Aier Guizhou Hospital. Experts across the hospital network consulted via video conference, and they decided Yan Yan should be treated at the Aier Chengdu Hospital, the only one in western China with the needed endoscopic equipment. There, a specialist determined the serious injury had worsened because of delayed treatment and ordered surgery. Yan Yan recovered some sight within two hours of the first surgery, and recovered full sight after a second.

Yan Yan’s disability is shared by many in China, home to almost one-fifth of the world’s blind. Many of them are suffering from treatable causes of blindness, like cataracts. Realizing that public institutions did not have the capacity to reach everyone who needed treatment, the Chinese government implemented reforms to encourage more private health institutions to enter the health market.

Aier has grown from a single hospital in 2002, to a network of 100 hospitals in 26 provinces responsible for treating nearly 20 million patients.  IFC supported this growth with financing, enabling Aier to grow and eventually raise funding through an IPO.  With almost $50 million in profits in 2014, Aier has shown that an efficient, high-volume business model can deliver high quality services sustainably.

Aier adapted a multi-tier network of hospitals to ophthalmology and introduced it to China. The network model lowers costs through efficiencies as lower tier hospitals in smaller cities refer patients to larger, more sophisticated hospitals. Preventative and primary care is conducted through its outpatient department, with services offered in retail stores, community eye clinics and through partnerships with public schools.

Doctors and equipment are shared across the network. A published schedule of tiered pricing reduces corrupt practices by doctors—like collecting side payments or prescribing unneeded drugs. A strong reputation for quality enables Aier to subsidize prices for lower-income patients with higher prices for discretionary procedures like LASIK surgery, which is paid out-of-pocket by more affluent patients. As a result, Aier accepts patients, regardless of income level. 

Read more about Yan Yan’s case and how Aier scaled up access to high-quality eye care in IFC’s latest case study, Aier Eye Hospital: Efficient Management Leads to Clear vision for Millions of Chinese.

 

For more information contact Elizabeth Price, eprice@ifc.org

First Published: 12/03/2015

 

Yan Yan fully recovered her sight thanks to the specialists she saw through the Aier network.

 
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Aier Eye Hospital: Efficient Management Leads to Clear vision for Millions of Chinese