As COVID-19 has led to wider acceptance and use of health-tech in China, the epidemic is prompting digital innovation in China's health care industry to surge.
As residents limit their movement outdoors to reduce the risk of infection – especially cross-infection at hospitals – we are seeing more people turning to medical help right at their fingertips. Health tech platforms are bridging the gap between health care demand and supply. China's health care apps have created special COVID-19 services where people can converse with doctors online about their symptoms or simply receive more details about preventative measures.
By early to mid-February, online medical consultations on Alibaba's health care app, AliHealth saw over 700,000 visitors to its app each day. Ping-An Insurance Group's Ping-An Good Doctor app served nearly four million. China's first internet-based hospital, WeDoctor created a free consultation service for COVID-19 that drew nearly 95 million visitors to its platform.
China saw a near three-fold increase in internet hospitals from 2018 to 2019. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, 57 new internet hospitals were set up in Guangdong Province, 48 in Shandong and 41 in Jiangsu Province. With a click of a few buttons, China's online pharmacies can get much needed drugs into the hands of patients in their homes in as fast as 30 minutes.
This latest wave of health-tech demand driven by COVID-19 speeds up the next stage of development in China's health care system, one in which health care will be delivered in a seamless online to offline experience. One-stop health-tech ecosystems where patients can set up appointments, consult with doctors, receive diagnosis, treatments, prescriptions, monitoring and after-treatment care all from a mobile device. This upgrade raises health care efficiency and equity where the sick in less developed regions are better connected to the nation's top medical resources.
Supporting the demand push for digital health are national commitments that place the internet at the heart of a strategy for a healthier China by 2030. As put by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, "the development of Internet Plus Healthcare is a major initiative to enhance our country's public health services." Since 2014, over 20 policy initiatives were released to promote the digitization of health care in China. Just this February, two policy guidelines were released encouraging the use of big data and telemedicine in China's fight against COVID-19.
"The epidemic may become a turning point for the digitalization and consumerization of the medical industry," said Kevin Chang, partner as well as head of health care practice in Greater China of Bain & Company. He explained that China's medical industry has for a long time been conservative about digitalization, and said the epidemic this time revealed problems that need urgent solutions, such as inadequate information and low efficiency of resource allocation.
Containing the coronavirus in the world's most populous country with its advanced transportation networks and a highly mobile population is no easy feat. China is turning the tide against COVID-19. The country will draw deep learning experiences from how technology can be used to enhance epidemic control and prevention. With China's 847 million mobile internet users, their fast adoption of technology, the leadership in 5G rollout and the surge in health tech demand from COVID-19, expect faster digital innovations to propel a powerful transformation in China's health care ecosystem.