Online medical platforms attract more users during COVID-19 in China
Updated 22:19, 19-Mar-2020
By Wu Guoxiu

Many in China have tried online medical platforms during the COVID-19 outbreak, and the providers of free remote consultation are hoping to further boost their business even after the pandemic is over.

Dr. Wan Jun works in a public hospital in Beijing. He's one of over 50,000 doctors offering free consultation related to the new coronavirus on WeDoctor – a private medical care platform – for two months now.

"Many symptoms were related to anxiety. Doctors can give patients some reassurance. But are all these patients infected with coronavirus? I think most of them are not," he said.

Dr. Wan said he's using two online medical apps. But most of his appointments are patients he's already treated.

"I don't really like to receive new online patients. I mostly conduct follow-up appointments with former patients. Because I know their situation, I can be more accurate. I also carry out many consultations with doctors from other hospitals on the platform," he added.

Dr. Wan Jun in Beijing has an appointment with a patient in Hangzhou, east China, via an online medical platform. Wu Guoxiu /CGTN

Dr. Wan Jun in Beijing has an appointment with a patient in Hangzhou, east China, via an online medical platform. Wu Guoxiu /CGTN

Online medical services are not new in China. They were also not the first choice for many before the COVID-19 outbreak. But some platforms have seen an exponential increase in traffic during the public health emergency. Whether this trend will continues after the epidemic is a concern for these providers.

Over the past two months, some online medical platforms have seen a tenfold increase in visitors and registered users. Some are even taking the chance to extend their services worldwide.

WeDoctor launched its overseas platform against COVID-19 last Saturday. It has since received 6.8 million visits and provided free consultations to over 24,000 users from 22 countries, including the U.S., the UK, Australia and Italy.

"One day after the launch of our help center overseas, we received a message from a doctor in Sardinia. She was seeking help. We immediately organized a teleconference with doctors from Wuhan to share their first-hand experience with the Italian doctor and her colleagues," said Cheng Yi, senior VP of WeDoctor.

The epidemic is also seen as an opportunity for online medical platforms. "The government has acknowledged the value of online medical services during the outbreak. They have issued quite a number of policies to support the further development of online hospitals, including those related to medical insurance. So I believe online medical services and online hospitals will continue to play a very important role in people's life even (when) the epidemic is over," Cheng said.

Encouraged by the government, public hospitals in China have also set up online clinics that can prescribe and deliver drugs covered by public health care insurance during the epidemic. Analysts now expect a further boost to China's "internet plus" medical reform.