Can digital health solve China’s healthcare quality, distribution problems?

Earlier this year [TTA 21 May] we noted China’s interest, governmental moves and private investments in digital health as part of ‘Internet Plus’: Tencent Holdings and Fosun International led the $35 million Series B round for ‘healthcare tricorder’ Scanadu; ZTE Health; Alibaba‘s investment in data cruncher CITIC 21CN. Now McKinsey partner Florian Then analyzed for Yahoo! Finance the promise of telemedicine and telehealth in that country, and the great problems they must solve. The huge disparity of care between urban and rural hospitals drives patients to the former, regardless of long distances and inconvenience. In population health, the unhealthy habits of much of China’s population make US/UK/EU concerns look unimportant: one of every three of the world’s smokers and 300 million hypertensives live in China.

A possible telemedicine-driven solution would be for urban hospitals to support via doctor consults and email rural hospitals to get patients into the medical system locally and earlier. Education would be delivered online, probably through those 847 million mobile phones on which 83 percent of Chinese Internet users access the web (market intelligence firm IDC). China also appears to be liberalizing online purchases of prescription authenticated drugs through websites such as Alibaba, which will cut down on the high number of counterfeit drugs in the generic market. Healthcare also has to overcome another factor in doctor cooperation: according to Then, “quality of care is literally nonexistent as a topic in China” and hospitals are not accountable for publishing patient data. Without this, telemedicine success would be difficult to track and replicate. But China has two significant drivers, according to IDC’s Benjamin Niu: “creating something entirely new out of necessity and the systemic failure of the established way things are being done today.” China bets on telemedicine to solve its healthcare woes (Yahoo! Finance)

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