Internet giants' healthy future
Updated: 2015-09-14 13:36
By China Daily(China Daily USA)
Patients will reap the benefits as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies team up with Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu
Outpatients used to have to join long, snaking lines outside of the pharmacy at Hubei Chest Hospital before picking up their prescription drugs.
Similar scenes were, and still are, common at most medical clinics across the country.
But now a pilot scheme rolled out by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Hubei Chest Hospital in March is changing all that as the healthcare sector embraces the Internet age.
Instead of waiting in line, outpatients can download the hospital's mobile app before ordering and paying for their prescriptions online, which are then delivered to their homes.
"Although China's Internet healthcare industry is still in infancy, it has lured the country's Internet heavyweights, which are determined to reshape the sector with technology and service-oriented mindset," said Lin Wenbin, a senior analyst at research company Analysys International.
At the click of a button, the healthcare sector in China is being revolutionized by Internet innovation.
Patients are reaping the benefits as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies team up with major Web players, such as Alibaba, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Baidu Inc, to produce services ranging from online consultations to health data information.
At Hubei Chest Hospital, the smart app project links up pharmacies within a three-kilometer radius with an e-prescription system based on Alibaba technology.
"In future, this will drive more traffic to drugstores and further relieve pressure on the hospital," said Li Denghui, president of Hebei Chest Hospital.
Hundreds of medical institutions in China are undergoing a rapid transformation by using online technology. In April, Alibaba launched an initiative called Cloud Hospital, to promote partnerships between medical centers across the country. The program is already up and running at Hubei Chest Hospital.
In July, Baidu Inc signed a strategic partnership with EZTcn.com, a mobile healthcare service provider, which helps people make an appointment online to see a doctor.
Social media heavyweight Tencent has also moved into the sector. So far this year, it has signed partnership deals with medical instrument manufacturers Guangdong Biolight Meditech Co Ltd in China and Scanadu, a Silicon Valley-based medical devices maker in the United States.
This comes at a time when the online healthcare market is poised for huge growth.
A report by Analysys International showed the industry was worth 11.4 billion yuan ($1.79 billion) last year, an increase of 22.6 percent compared to the same period in 2013.
Overall, the healthcare sector in China was worth 2.63 trillion yuan ($413 billion) in 2014, according to data from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.
"With an aging population and increasing public awareness on fitness and health, more people will rely on online and mobile platforms to enjoy medical services," Lin, of Analysys International, said. "The market will grow into an industry of 36.5 billion yuan in 2017."
But there are challenges ahead as the healthcare industry is controlled and funded by government organizations.
Indeed, prescription drugs can not be sold on Alibaba's e-commerce site Tmall, even though it already deals in over-the-counter medicines. "Only when the government greenlights more medical businesses to private players, will the online health market really boom," Qin Zexi, an analyst at research firm iResearch Consulting Group, said.
Still, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are making significant progress. Patients can now use online platforms, such as Alibaba's Alipay and Tencent's WeChat, to consult doctors, make appointments, pay bills and check medical reports. In the past few years, medical delivery service apps have also mushroomed.
In the near future, "telediagnosis" is another area the Internet big three will probably move into. This is a process whereby a disease diagnosis, or prognosis, is made by the electronic transmission of data between distant medical centers. Technology will play a key role in this.
"The Internet trio are spending heavily in the sector, but currently most of their services don't touch upon the key aspect of telediagnosis," Qin said. "As more public hospitals embrace online technology and Internet companies, telediagnosis will become a growing trend."
For now, Internet companies are carving out niche roles in the healthcare industry.
Baidu is concentrating on big data technology, a broad term for processing vast amounts of complex statistics, which can be boiled down into market trends. Around 26 million people search for medical information on its platform, according to the company.
In July, it rolled out a cloud computing project in partnership with the Beijing municipal government. This involves analyzing and storing health-related data from smart devices.
"Unlike Alibaba which has to tempt companies to its platforms before accumulating pharmacy business data, Baidu is a natural accumulator of records," Lin said,
As for Tencent, it has invested $70 million in dxy.cn, the largest online medical community in China, and provided funding for guahao.com, which makes appointments with doctors online. These portals are now on WeChat, which allows them to access the site's 600 million regular users each month.
"WeChat is an ideal platform to offer customized or personalized medical services because it can accurately profile users," Qin said.
Naturally, Alibaba has even bigger plans. It already sells over-the-counter medicines online and could now expand into health insurance.
"Alibaba is now heavily involved in the medical industry chain," Qin said. "Compared with Tencent and Baidu, it has greater internal resources in online medical care, which will give it an edge in developing more products."
Earlier this year, Alibaba Health Information Technology linked up China Pacific Insurance (Group) Co Ltd. "We don't rule out the possibility of rolling out Yu'ebao-like online health insurance product in the future," Zhang Lei, who is in charge of public relations for Alibaba Health, said, referring to Yu'ebao's popular online investment fund.
Ma Si contributed to this story
A medical worker shows a patient how to use WeChat to access hospital services in Foshan, Guangdong province.Provided To China Daily
A maternity nurse tells a pregnant woman that she can use her WeChat to consult doctors about her physical conditions. Provided To China Daily
A doctor talks with his patient via an online terminal at a hospital in Beijing. Provided To China Daily
(China Daily USA 09/14/2015 page13)
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