As China’s 2009 healthcare reforms have not proved satisfactory, despite being backed by massive investment from the Chinese central government, the authorities have begun to allow further private investment in the healthcare market and a greater role for market forces. The business sector, especially the tech industry and venture capital, have moved fast.
Most of the major online and mobile healthcare companies in China have pocketed large amounts of funding. Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba made big moves in 2014, intending to address problems surrounding access and affordability in healthcare with web and mobile products or investments. For example, Alibaba announced a “Future Hospital Plan” this May.
It is considered likely that efforts by Chinese tech companies will stimulate great changes to how Chinese patients access doctors and purchase medicines in the near future.
Managing doctor visits and medical bills through mobile apps
To address the long-standing problem of the huge queues in Chinese hospitals, Tencent and Alibaba have enabled hospitals to build mobile features on WeChat and Alipay Wallet respectively to streamline workflows. Now users can book appointments, make payments and check their payment history through a hospital’s WeChat public account or its channel at Alipay Wallet.
Seeing doctors online before getting treatment
A handful of Chinese medtech startups, such as Dingxiangyuan (aka DXY, founded in 2000), Haodaifu (founded in 2006), Chunyu Doctor (2011), and Guahao (2010), have been working on platforms to connect doctors and patients. Tencent invested in two of such services, DXY and Guahao, during 2014. Ping An, the leading insurance Chinese company, launched a similar service last month.
Chunyu Doctor is mobile only. Doctors are paid to be active on the app and to answer questions from patients. Chunyu has begun monetization through revenue shares from paid offerings doctors list. The company has also developed a childcare app and a heart rate monitor. This year Chunyu raised Series C funding.
DXY has moved a step further by applying for a clinical license, planning to build clinics across China where doctors on its platform can see and treat patients. Ping An is also building private hospitals where individual doctors can rent clinic space.
Apart from online services for doctor-patient communication, DXY also provides mobile apps for drug indexing and medication guides, an online forum for pharmaceutical and medical professionals, and a tool for medical exam preparation. When announcing its US$70 million investment from Tencent in September, DXY said they would develop WeChat-based applications.
Medicine purchasing process is being revolutionized.
In early 2014 Alibaba acquired a controlling stake in CITIC 21CN, one of the few Chinese companies with a license for online drug sales and a barcode system for medicines. With the license and drug database, alijk, (or Ali-health) mobile app for to purchase prescription drugs, was built and launched in early December.
Through the app, users can avoid the notoriously overpriced hospitals medicine and can instead order from nearby pharmacies which offer lower prices.
A new wave of medtech mobile apps were created in 2014, but few stood out as very special. The two leading mobile apps in women’s health, Dayima and Meet You, both announced large amounts of investment, with both transforming from a menstruation tracker to a community for women’s health.
Rather more healthcare hardware products emerged this year. For instance, wearables for tracking a baby’s development (such as Lisa and Babytree’s B-smart). Xiaomi, the smart device and software company, has also added iHealth’s blood pressure monitor into its Android hardware product family.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)