The new Chinese e-health revolution

An e-health revolution is taking place in China. The communist party has thrown its weight behind online healthcare services – and is legislating accordingly. Telehealth operators are queuing up to both to capitalise on and throw capital at this new opportunity to enter the vast Chinese markets.

Under the new policy published earlier this month by the Chinese health ministry, healthcare providers will be able to launch what they bill as “online hospitals” – but we would describe as following the clinic model. Some common and chronic diseases can now be legally managed through online healthcare services, and prescriptions can also be issued online. Fees for doctors’ consultations will also be publicly funded by China’s social health insurance. By 2020, tertiary hospitals will also generally be able to provide online healthcare services, making it easier for patients to see their doctors.

This policy is aimed at freeing up physical healthcare resources, and speeding up waiting times and cutting queues in clinics and hospitals for those most in need in China. Telemedicing is not currently considered the first port of call for Chinese patients who see it more as a way to get a second opinion following a face-to-face consultation, but familiarity through funded use could change that dynamic.

As we wrote earlier this month following an exclusive interview with the group’s founder and CEO, it is no surprise that the London-headquartered digital healthcare company babylon has just announced a partnership with Chinese social media and messaging giant WeChat – bypassing operators completely to get to the patients.

Taiwanese TCM operator Ma Kuang, already present in China, tells Healthcare Nova it is also readying to launch a digital healthcare platform next year. HBI hears that there are more deals in the pipelines between foreign operators and Chinese companies.

And let’s also not forget the self-proclaimed e-health giant Ping An Good Doctor – the digital arm of insurance behemoth Ping An, which will be listing on Hong Kong exchange (HKEx) in May. The healthcare app had 190m registered users in 2017, according to Ping An – though it is unclear how active they are. The company certainly has big ambitions in this sphere as it focusses on developing AI technology to aid the efficiency and accuracy of diagnosis.

As one Asian healthcare operator put it, “it is the golden era of healthcare in China”. It is also a golden opportunity for those able to take advantage.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Yoke Wong or call 0207 183 3779.