Online doctors hope to ease strain on patients, hospitals

Updated: 2016-06-28 07:37

By Shan Juan(China Daily)

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The pharmacy model promoted by MinuteClinic in the United States has been brought to Northwest China by the local health authority and AliHealth as part of healthcare reform to improve patient access to care.

The initiative in Jinchang, Gansu province, with a population of more than 400,000, uses telemedicine platforms from AliHealth, a subsidiary of Alibaba.

About 100 physicians, under the public-private partnership led by the local health administration, will see patients via the telemedicine platform installed at about 20 drugstores, according to Li Yutang, director of the healthcare reform office of Jinchang.

Called the "One-minute Clinic", the program allows doctors to prescribe drugs online that patients can buy at the stores.

The model is expected to expand to nearly 300 drugstores throughout Gansu province.

Online doctors hope to ease strain on patients, hospitals

"It helps enhances public access to health services and helps optimize overall medical resources," Li said.

Wang Lei, AliHealth CEO, said chronic disease management, rehabilitation, health education, and disease prevention would be the top priorities.

Currently, people in China tend to swarm into big hospitals to see specialists for even minor conditions, resulting in crowded facilities, said Liu Yuanli, dean of the School of Public Health at Beijing Union Medical College. Moreover, numerous repeat visits by patients with chronic diseases strain the system.

Due to the difficulty of seeing a doctor in a large Chinese public hospital, many people buy medications at drugstores to treat themselves. However, in China, few drugstores have pharmacists.

Li expected the latest program would help patients with more convenient and professional care.

"It helps ease the strain on crowded large hospitals and lowers overall medical costs," he said.

Wang, however, said that despite the overwhelming e-commerce tide - Alibaba's is the country's largest e-commerce drug platform - brick-and-mortar drugstores wouldn't disappear, and the functions of China's drugstores can be expanded to integrate health consultation and management.

The latest program in Jinchang was inspired by MinuteClinic, a walk-in clinic in the US that started in 2000. It now has more than 800 locations in 28 US states.