This study examines the factors that influence patient choice of medical provider in the three-tier health care system in rural China: village health posts, township health centres, and county (and higher level) hospitals. The model is estimated using a multinomial logit approach applied to a sample of 1877 cases of outpatient treatment from a household survey in Shunyi county of Beijing in 1993. This represents the first effort to identify and quantify the impact of individual factors on patient choice of provider in China. The results show that relative to self-pay patients, Government and Labour Health Insurance beneficiaries are more likely to use county hospitals, while patients covered by the rural Cooperative Medical System (CMS) are more likely to use village-level facilities. In addition, high-income patients are more likely to visit county hospitals than low-income patients. The results also reveal that disease patterns have a significant impact on patient choice of provider, implying that the ongoing process of health transition will lead people to use the higher quality services offered at the county hospitals. We discuss the implications of the results for organizing health care finance and delivery in rural China to achieve efficiency and equity.