Liu Yang, Vice President of iFlytek Healthcare, Cathy Fang, Vice President of YITU Healthcare, and John Gu, Chief Digital Officer at Wuxi NextCODE, joined TechCrunch Hangzhou for a discussion of China’s AI and healthcare.

While the Chinese healthcare market is expected to see $1 trillion of expenses in 2020, the guests agreed that the industry is inevitably encountering hardships as the industry demands highly-profession knowledge. China is still catching up.

Fang said the research direction of her company depends on pain points of the industry and the size of market demand. The ability to address pain points—or persistent and tough problems—that the healthcare industry has been tackling will bring companies bargain power once any technology is demonstrating some advancement. Market demand, as part of China’s huge population and rising health concerns, will boost the companies’ commercial profitability.

Rationalization of market behaviors, a matrix of health tech products and services, policy support, and increasing applications in diverse healthcare use cases will be a major trend for the year 2018, Fang added.

Gu, on the other hand, unveiled NextCODE’s ambition in integrating genomics, blockchain, and AI. The company is considered China’s leading genomic data platform, and it once said its tool does for medical researchers and clinicians what Google’s search engine did for internet users about two decades ago.

During an interview with TechNode, Liu acknowledged that with Chinese AI in the healthcare industry, no single player is demonstrating any dominant power. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be that many AI healthcare companies, right?” Liu asked, laughing.

For the same reason, the players in the field are not concerned with competition as much as people from outside the industry might have thought.

“It’s a huge pie,” Fang and Liu nodded together.

AI companies are now into early-stage applications which usually start with cooperation with resource-holders and standard-makers such as government-backed medical institutions and labs. The players are leveraging their own strengths to consolidate approachable market shares while in the meantime heavily invest in R&D to build any possible comparative technological advantage.

“Currently we’re not aiming to enter as many healthcare institutions or hospitals as possible,” Liu added during the interview. “We very clearly understand both the capability and weakness of our products’, and we would like to move step-by-step in order to, on the one hand, receive useful feedback, and on the other hand, maintain a very stable performance.”

“It’s also a huge responsibility,” Liu explained, adding, “It’s for people’s lives. It’s not just commercial, and we have to think twice.”

Cathy agreed with Liu explaining for TechNode the role of AI in healthcare: “Because of healthcare AI’s initiative of helping and saving people, innovation in the field has to focus on the real needs of patients. YITU has major divisions of talents, namely the tech division and clinical diagnosis division. You have to get back to where you are.”

While the mass application of AI in healthcare is definitely on schedule, it takes time to penetrate into the lives of most of us.

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

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