Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Use of and factors associated with self-treatment in China

Li Yuefeng1, Rao Keqin1 and Ren Xiaowei2*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Health Statistics and Information, Ministry of Health, Xizhimen South Road, Beijing 100044, China

2 School of Public Health, Lanzhou University, Donggangxi Road, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:995  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-995

Published: 17 November 2012



When an individual is ill or symptomatic, they have the options of seeking professional health care, self-treating or doing nothing. In China, some studies suggest that the number of individuals opting to self-treat has been rapidly increasing in recent years. Therefore, the aim of this study was to analyze the trends of and factors related to self-treatment in China.


Self-treatment was measured based the concept and data of the China National Health Survey (CNHS), which covers 802,454 individuals. We used CNHS data from 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2008, and a Multinomial Logit Selection Model to estimate the factors influencing the decision to self-treat.


The prevalences of self-treatment with a recall period of two-weeks were significantly higher in urban compared with rural areas (31.2% vs 14.9% in 1993, 43.5% vs 21.4% in 1998, 47.2% vs 31.4% in 2003, 31.0% vs 25.3% in 2008) in China. Economic (per capita income, TV, sanitary water) and individual (education, profession, family members, exercise) factors, as well as accessibility to drugs had a positive association with the probability of self-treating. Different illness symptoms, severity, and duration show a negative association with the probability of self-treating, showing a degree of rationality in decision-making. Different insurance systems were also found to have an effect on self-treatment decision-making.


Self-treatment and professional medical services have shared the incremental medical needs of residents in recent years in China. Self-perceived illness status, economic circumstances, and education play important roles in health care decision-making.

Self-treatment decisions; Multinomial logit selection model; China national health survey