Healthcare platforms in China provide free healthcare services to millions

As the COVID-19 outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals and installed social distancing, online healthcare services have become sought after. In China, insurance bureaus, the National Health Commission, and the Central Committee, the political body of the party’s top leaders, have all been quick to support such services.

Weimai is one of the healthcare platforms integrating local healthcare resources and assisting its users and hospitals via healthcare service digitalisation. The platform covers 21 of China’s 26 provinces, with more than 100 partner cities, 1,000 hospitals, and 100,000 doctors. Last year, Weimai secured US$100 million in investment to develop its portals for third- and four-tier cities in China (those with less than three million residents).

Since January 21, Weimai has been responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, initially  

donating 5 million CNY of emergency relief materials to first-line hospitals and subsequently providing free clinic services to over 900,000 people in China, with nearly 1,000 public hospitals and over 20,000 doctors involved.

The free service is predominantly an online consultation in place of going straight to the hospital. In China, there is no GP and referral system as is prevalent in most of the West; instead, if a patient is ill, they go directly to the hospital of their choice.

Weimai’s app in the iOS App Store

Weimai’s system means unnecessary in-hospital diagnosis and treatment can be avoided, acting as the first line of defence for epidemic prevention. Medicine can be prescribed over the platform and patients who need to go to the hospital can be allocated to a suitable hospital. Weimai also claims it helps hospitals manage their medical resources.

These measures ease the burden on hospitals and lower the risk of patients getting infected with COVID-19 at hospitals. This is crucial with this virus, as we know people who have been infected can be spreading it without showing any symptoms.

The platform provides a stock of COVID-19 information, including live streaming sessions with epidemic experts. Users can also see real-time data and generate public information posters to share on their social media. These features all help to prevent panic, which can distort the crisis and cause additional dangers.

Weimai had already showcased its product in several publications even before Wuhan went into lockdown. After the lockdown, to reach more people quickly, a portal to Weimai’s free service was added to more than 100 internet companies including giants Toutiao, Meituan, Tencent, and Kuaishou.

Taking Kuaishou as an example, its 300 million users are predominantly concentrated in lower-tiered cities in China, which generally have weaker medical systems than China’s first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen).

But Weimai’s efforts are a small deed to the enormous strains China’s healthcare system faces. For a population of 1.4 billion with 8 billion annual medical visits, as of 2018, there were only 1,192 tertiary hospitals, 6,780 secondary hospitals, and 4,989 primary hospitals.

Nevertheless, “online hospitals” are on a steep rise, increasing from just 1 in 2014 to 269 by November 2019. The number of online consultations has risen sharply too, from 30 million in 2012 to 450 million by April 2019. Of these, Ping An Good Doctor is the industry leader, with its users rising from 30 million in 2015 to 265 million in 2018.  Alibaba’s service is also a top contender, reaching 1.6 million users within just four days of the launch of its free service. Other tech giants joining the business include Baidu, JD.com, and Tencent, albeit on much smaller scales.

As we see hospitals all over the world become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, healthcare systems will have to come up with more sophisticated measures to prevent disaster. If resources are not appropriately managed, costly measures such as relocating doctors, making emergency PPE purchases, and building temporary hospitals will continue. Weimai’s experience proves there is much more tech companies can do to support our healthcare systems.

Adapted from (Chinese): https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/T3jO2KAQtAayD77VCZafWA

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