More patients from Central Asian nations sought medical care in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region last year because of its high quality healthcare and its proximity, according to a senior official.
Foreign patients accessed medical services at hospitals in Urumqi, the regional capital, either in person or via an online diagnosis and consultation platform 8,600 times, an increase of more than 20 per cent over 2015, said Liu Chengyuan, deputy mayor of Urumqi.
"We expect to see more foreign patients this year because coming to Urumqi for surgeries and health checks has become a popular trend," he said.
"People have been drawn to Xinjiang to seek help from neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons. They are also interested in traditional Chinese and Uygur medicine."
As a core area of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xinjiang plans to become an international medical care centre to serve foreign patients, especially those from neighbouring countries.
The region borders a number of countries, including Russia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
It is home to 14 diverse peoples, including Uygur, Kazakh and Tajik ethnic groups－people who speak the same language and have customs similar to neighbouring countries.
"The region has natural and cultural advantages of providing medical care to people from countries involved in the initiative," said Peng Yong, deputy director of the Xinjiang Health and Family Planning Commission.
Five major hospitals in Urumqi have provided 500 beds for international patients and are equipped with nurses who can speak Russian and Kazakh.
Foreign patients can also receive fast-track services in those hospitals, Peng said, adding that more than 30 hospitals around Xinjiang also plan to launch services for foreigners.
In addition to the public, senior figures from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have visited the region 25 times to receive health checks since 2015, Peng added.
The region's online diagnosis and consultation platform includes 11 top hospitals in China, 17 in Kyrgyzstan, two in Georgia and five in Kazakhstan.
Fifteen hospitals in Tajikistan also plan to join the platform, Peng said.
Liu said the platform will eventually include 100 hospitals to provide timely help to foreign patients.
"Medical care is a basic and common need. Providing lifesaving medical care to foreign patients can create mutual trust," Peng said.