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01.12.2012 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2012 Open Access

BMC Health Services Research 1/2012

National Essential Medicines List and policy practice: A case study of China’s health care reform

BMC Health Services Research > Ausgabe 1/2012
Xin Tian, Yaran Song, Xinping Zhang
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no conflicting interests, and there are no ethics problems met with this study.

Authors' contributions

XT designed the study, provided input into the data analysis and interpretation, and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. YRS contributed to the study design, handled the data collection and analysis, and helped write the first draft. XPZ led and supervised the study, contributed to the study design, and assisted in the writing of the first draft. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



In 2009, China implemented the national essential medicines system by enacting the National Essential Medicines List 2009. According to the policy of this system, primary health care institutions can only stock and use essential medicines on the prescribed List. Meanwhile, each province can choose to make its own list of supplemented medicines. The goal of the study is to provide suggestions for emerging problems and identify future policy-making trends.


In this study, we statistically analyzed the National Essential Medicines List 2009 and lists of supplemented medicines of all 29 provinces. We also examined the rationality of such medicines based on the DELPHI method and literature review, after which we studied the provincial supplements in relation to the national essential medicines system.


We demonstrated that the National Essential Medicines List 2009 provides a comprehensive coverage of diseases as well as reasonable varieties of drugs for their treatment. The average number of supplemented medicines in 29 provinces is 207, with each medicine included in 2.9 provincial lists on average. Only 2.6% supplemented medicines are included by more than half of the provinces (>15), indicating great regional variance. Among the 32 most frequently supplemented medicines, only 18 meet the selection principles, including two with strict usage restrictions.


The structure and selection of the National Essential Medicines List 2009 are relatively reasonable. The main problems, however, include the excessive and non-scientific selection of medicines on the supplemented medicines list. The function of the provincial lists of supplemented medicines has not been achieved, which has influenced the effectiveness of the national essential medicines system in China.
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