Alipay has launched the first Future Pharmacy (未来药店) with local Zhangzhongjing Pharmacy in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

The Future Pharmacy allows payment via facial recognition. A consumer simply needs to have their face authenticated on the device and enter their registered Alipay phone number to activate the service.

Facial recognition payment will allow prescription drug payment when patients forget to bring their ID documents. Zhima Credit, the credit affiliate of Alipay, will empower in-store deposit-free health check device rental. The Future Pharmacy also accepts Alipay-supported and state-backed medical insurance payment.

The health field is crowded with ambitious giants. BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) have all entered, building power with exclusive self-owned resources or collaborating with third parties aggressively.

This month, Beijing announced the WeChat-based digital health card. On 19 May, Tencent formed a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging AI medical alliance with GE and Beijing Hospital. According to local media, by September 2017, Tencent had invested in over 30 medical and health companies and injected over RMB 20 billion.

Alibaba has already established their health affiliate, AliHealth. With rich e-commerce experience and strong payment solutions, Alibaba is building an ecosystem that actively encourages health consumption. By May 24, in the past 5 trading days, the Hong Kong-listed AliHealth surged 55.18%.

BAT’s moves and current landscape in healthcare also imply that China has a long way to go in innovation. At the moment, major actions focus on ecosystem building, cooperation, data, and infrastructure establishment. This may be well-thought preparations for incoming big games, but there are few Chinese tech-company-led breakthroughs in the pharmaceutical or medical device industries.

Though BAT may want to invest in emerging or local players to diverse portfolios and increase chances of success, real situations in China cannot always support it. As government controls some absolutely advantageous resources, private companies have limited free space and political collaborations are more than crucial.

Runhua Zhao is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Connect with her via email:

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