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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

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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