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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Comparing public and private hospitals in China: Evidence from Guangdong

Karen Eggleston1, Mingshan Lu2*, Congdong Li3, Jian Wang4, Zhe Yang5, Jing Zhang6 and Hude Quan7

Author Affiliations

1 Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

2 Department of Economics, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

3 Jinan University Management School, Guangzhou, PR China

4 Center for Health Management and Policy, Shandong University, Shandong, PR China

5 Guangdong Bureau of Health Statistics Center, Guangzhou, PR China

6 Department of Economics, University of Maryland, USA

7 Department of Community Health Sciences and Centre for Health and Policy Studies, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:76  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-76

Published: 23 March 2010



The literature comparing private not-for-profit, for-profit, and government providers mostly relies on empirical evidence from high-income and established market economies. Studies from developing and transitional economies remain scarce, especially regarding patient case-mix and quality of care in public and private hospitals, even though countries such as China have expanded a mixed-ownership approach to service delivery. The purpose of this study is to compare the operations and performance of public and private hospitals in Guangdong Province, China, focusing on differences in patient case-mix and quality of care.


We analyze survey data collected from 362 government-owned and private hospitals in Guangdong Province in 2005, combining mandatorily reported administrative data with a survey instrument designed for this study. We use univariate and multi-variate regression analyses to compare hospital characteristics and to identify factors associated with simple measures of structural quality and patient outcomes.


Compared to private hospitals, government hospitals have a higher average value of total assets, more pieces of expensive medical equipment, more employees, and more physicians (controlling for hospital beds, urban location, insurance network, and university affiliation). Government and for-profit private hospitals do not statistically differ in total staffing, although for-profits have proportionally more support staff and fewer medical professionals. Mortality rates for non-government non-profit and for-profit hospitals do not statistically differ from those of government hospitals of similar size, accreditation level, and patient mix.


In combination with other evidence on health service delivery in China, our results suggest that changes in ownership type alone are unlikely to dramatically improve or harm overall quality. System incentives need to be designed to reward desired hospital performance and protect vulnerable patients, regardless of hospital ownership type.