AI in the healthcare sector in China
The History of AI in China’s healthcare industry
In the early 1980s, China began to develop research in the field of artificial intelligence in healthcare. Although it first lagged behind developed countries, it has developed rapidly. Since the beginning of the 21st century, AI in China’s healthcare industry has made significant progress in more segments of healthcare.
With a rapidly aging population, the increase in the chronic diseases, the shortage of quality medical resources, and the rising public medical expenses, the application of AI in the healthcare sector in China has brought new development direction and motivation to the medical field.
Currently, investment in AI in the healthcare industry in China is ranked first in the world, and the quality of research is among the top three.
According to Global market insights, the Asia Pacific healthcare AI market will witness lucrative growth of 44.4% by 2025 due to the rising R&D expenditure, developments in pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. It is estimated by Forward-the Economist that the market size of China’s healthcare big data industry will exceed 80 billion yuan by 2020.
This article will focus on the five main applications of AI in the healthcare industry in China, namely medical imaging, auxiliary diagnosis, drug development, health management, and disease prediction.
Current situation of AI in the healthcare industry in China: How are healthcare AI companies in China developing?
There are four pain points in Chinese medical field: insufficient medical resources, a long training period for doctors, high medical costs, and a high doctor misdiagnosis rate. AI may be leveraged to solve some of these problems.
AI in Medical imaging
One of the most common applications of AI in China’s healthcare industry
Medical imaging refers to the specific application of AI technology in the diagnosis of medical imaging. AI may find multiple applications, from image acquisition and processing to aided reporting, follow-up planning, data storage, etc. AI is expected to massively impact the radiologist’s life.
Currently, it is the second-largest market segment of artificial intelligence medical applications in China and was predicted to grow at a growth rate of more than 40% and reach a scale of 2.5 billion US dollars in 2024. In addition, AI medical imaging in China is considered by industry insiders to be the first market to commercialize in AI in the healthcare industry in China.
Due to the huge gap in the number of professional doctors in medical imaging in China, the rate of misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis is high, and the speed of manual diagnosis is limited. AI in medical imaging can help to process image data in the following aspects: reading mode, time, accuracy, objectivity, memory, modeling conditions, information utilization, repeatability, the difficulty of quantitative analysis, experience transmission, and cost. Patients, physicians, and hospitals will all benefit from the use of AI in medical imaging in China.
AI in medical imaging has become the most commonly used depends on several developments of AI in the healthcare industry in China.
First, the medical imaging data is huge; more than 90% of the medical data comes from medical images. The picture data structure is simple, which is convenient for machine learning. It is estimated that the volume of medical data will reach 40 trillion RMB by 2020, 30 times that of 2010.
Another developing advantage of AI in China’s healthcare industry is about the fast iteration of big data, and intelligent image diagnosis algorithm is relatively mature. In addition, medical imaging in China is strongly supported by national policies. The government has issued several policies to increase support for domestic medical imaging since 2013. In 2017, the total amount of financing in this field exceeded 1.7 billion RMB.
The current business model used in medical imaging in China
At present, AI in medical imaging products is mostly used for disease screening, especially cancer and chronic diseases. Most of the roughly formed AI medical imaging products in China are in the trial stage of hospitals, and the healthcare AI companies in China have not realized profits yet.
The three business models used in medical imaging in China include cross-border Internet technology giants, device companies, and technology companies. Cross-border Internet technology giants have the capital and technology to support the development of projects with their own strong financial resources. Device companies rely on medical imaging equipment or systems to gain access to medical facilities. Technology companies focus on the application layer, with their algorithms that provide final solutions based on industry data.
In 2017, Tencent launched the AIMIS (觅影), an AI-powered diagnostic medical imaging service. This healthtech in China currently has accuracy rates of over 90% for preliminary diagnoses of esophageal cancer, 95% for lung sarcoidosis, and 97% for diabetic retinopathy. According to Tencent, AIMIS has reached cooperation with more than 100 hospitals (3AAA Hospitals) in China to promote the research and application of AI in the healthcare industry in China.
AI in Diagnosis
Current AI applications in assisting diagnosis in China
In addition to medical imaging, AI in diagnosis in China also provides Electronic medical record (EMR), medical robot, virtual assistant and other services.
Electronic medical record
The traditional electronic medical record (EMR) system of healthtech in China doesn’t meet the needs of specialization of disease data, structuring of medical case data, and cannot provide clinical decision support based on medical records. Healthtech in China can use natural language processing technology to standardize and structure medical records and use speech recognition and speech synthesis to process large amounts of text entry.
China’s medical robots mainly include: surgical assistants (orthopedic and neurosurgical robots), gastrointestinal examination and diagnostic robots (capsule endoscopes, gastroscope diagnostic treatment, and auxiliary robots, etc.), rehabilitation robots and other robots for treatment (intelligent intravenous infusion drug configuration robot). The Boston data shows that the compound annual growth rate of the global medical robot market will be about 15.4% in the next five years. Recently, medical robots as a driver of the healthtech in China are gradually breaking the monopoly of imported robots. Domestic surgical robotics companies conduct business primarily by selling robots to hospitals and providing long-term maintenance services. Others provide parliamentarians with a model of the overall engineering solution for the surgical center.
Virtual assistants can provide real-time support to doctors. For example, patients need to know the necessary information about the disease when they go offline for consultation, and these highly overlapping contents take up a lot of doctors’ time. AI technology in China’s healthcare industry can help doctors respond to inquiries based on a large amount of historical information, saving time and energy.
Since most of the AI-assisted diagnosis products are software and hardware integrated solutions, healthcare AI companies in China cooperate with hospitals and continuously train models and optimize algorithms through hospital desensitization medical records data. Hospitals can use the products mostly for free. In the future, when the product becomes more mature, AI in diagnosis in China may be inclined to adopt the service charge business model.
Airdoc -Diagnosis in the blink of an eye
Airdoc is a fast-growing healthcare company specializing in AI in diagnosis in China. It has leveraged an AI-driven system that can seek out signs of many chronic illnesses by images of the retina at the back of each eyeball. By conduct screening in and outside medical institutions, Airdoc fundus disease recognition has become the doctor’s assistant for chronic diseases. This healthtech in China has been highly recognized by the international community. In 2017, Airdoc boarded the ‘Peace Ark hospital ship’ and visited six African countries on behalf of China, providing AI medical services to the crew and people living in these countries.
AI in Medicine discovery
Artificial Intelligence improves China’s drug research and development field
Medicine discovery is a notoriously expensive process, and it has four main stages. AI has already been successfully applied in all stages in drug development: identify target molecules, discover effective drugs, speed up clinical trials, and find biomarkers for diagnostics. At present, medicine discovery in China has several problems to be solved. Some of which can serve as the directions of AI development. Specifically, medicine discovery in China always takes a long-time duration, high costs, high-risk, and low rate of return. It is developing a new drug that costs $2.6 billion and takes 10 years to develop. However, the union between artificial intelligence and drug discovery can greatly reduce time and development costs. Artificial intelligence can quickly select the right compound through a large amount of data to generate hypothetical drugs, which shows the potential for more efficient development of medicine.
Current medicine discovery in China is still focused on generic drugs and improved drugs, while innovative drugs dominate foreign R&D. Therefore, in the field of drug R&D, international research goes further than in China.
The business model of medicine discovery in China
There are three major categories of healthcare AI companies that specialize in AI in drug research and development: AI technology companies, drug research institutions, and large pharmaceutical companies.
AI technology companies in China do not produce drugs but provide technical services to large pharmaceutical companies or medical institutions. As a service platform, drug research institutions offer support to national pharmaceutical enterprises in preparation, metabolism, safety evaluation, etc. The trend of large pharmaceutical companies is to seek cooperation or investment opportunities with AI technology companies by using their massive data.
Accutar Biotechnology is a Chinese pharmaceutical AI company specializing in medicine discovery which raised $15 million in funding in 2017. Accutar Biotechnology computational projections of 3D operators and deep chemical structure networks have greatly improved pharmaceutical efficiency and success rates in China.
AI in Health management
Big data as a breakthrough to achieve accurate health management
There are two main issues in health management in China. The first is smart wearable devices in traditional health management fail to solve data correlation. Wearable devices only focus on data extraction, collection, and trend analysis, but fail to provide users with health portraits and improve their health. Secondly, staff in the health management field are not that professional; most having a non-medical background.
Massive big data is a necessary prerequisite for the development of health management in China. From the technology-driven perspective, AI can make personalized health management possible through efficient calculation and accurate decision analysis. Even in the future, nutritionists and sports experts can generate accurate health intervention plans based on the AI system of healthtech in China.
Current situation and business model of health management in China
China’s current amount of smart wearable device hardware is not high enough, and the accumulation of disease-related data is insufficient. Therefore, the main application of AI in health management in China is chronic disease management (such as diabetes and hypertension), maternal management, mental health management, and population health management.
Health management operation is mainly based on physical examination, including health assessment and promotion, but follow-up health management services have not been fully popularized. In addition to employee health management services, some enterprises cooperate with insurance companies. In the future, the cultivation of individual users’ payment habits is expected.
AI in Disease prediction
Genetic testing as an inalienable development approach
AI technology in disease prediction in China are mainly used in gene sequencing and detection to forecast disease occurrence. Gene testing is the cornerstone of medicine.
Current business models of genetic testing services of AI in China’s healthcare industry can be divided into two types: a hospital delivery model and third-party testing model. Compared with the hospital delivery model, the third-party testing model requires a higher threshold of qualifications, personnel, and funds of medical inspection institutions.
Industry pain points and emerging benefits of disease prediction in ChinaGenetic testing is not easy to implement. Firstly, the amount of genome data is huge, and manual experiments are time-consuming and labor-intensive. Traditional gene sequencing costs too much. In addition, the general algorithm of gene sequencing diagnosis in different stages is ineffective and has low accuracy.
The advantage of disease prediction in China is the increasing market size and the development of the supercomputer. According to the trend of disease incidence, cancer incidence, and death rate have been continuously increasing in China in recent years. Data show that from 2007 to 2016, China’s revenue from gene sequencing increased by 62.2 percent annually, reaching 5.06 billion RMB in 2016. It is estimated that by 2022, China’s gene sequencing market is expected to reach about 30 billion RMB. Additionally, if supercomputer’s powerful data processing ability is applied to gene sequencing, it will greatly shorten the time of gene testing and improve efficiency.
Policies regarding AI in the healthcare sector in China
At the national level, AI manufacturing was first mentioned in the “Made in China 2025” issued by the State Council in 2015. In the past three years, it has released big data about national health and Internet medical care. Such policies have promoted the rapid development of big medical data and laid a good foundation for the development of AI in the healthcare sector in China.
At the provincial level, as of 2018, 19 provinces in China have released AI strategies, among them, Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Shenzhen. Other cities are in the early stages of AI development.
How to partner with leading healthcare AI companies in China
There are several possible ways to collaborate with leading AI companies in China. Firstly, foreign research institutes can cooperate with healthcare AI companies in China. InferVISION (推想科技) is a Chinese AI company, which provides services in the ‘AI as a Service’ mode and launches the medical imaging deep learning center to provide medical researchers with deep learning capabilities. While cooperating with more than 300 domestic hospitals, it also focuses on the overseas market expansion.
Another type of collaboration is between two tech companies — for example, iMedical Cloud from Tencent and Mediway. The iMedical Cloud builds an industrial internet ecological IT platform featuring cloud, security, sharing, and collaboration. Therefore, the key is to find healthcare AI companies in China that can complement each other’s resources and integrate companies’ technologies. In addition, there are many healthcare AI companies in China that started as software systems, and after quickly found a way to generate revenue by combining with big medical devices manufacturers.
In terms of medical discovery, cooperation between AI technology companies, pharmaceutical enterprises, and medical research institutions can be mutually beneficial. Foreign pharmaceutical enterprises can use the data from domestic AI technology companies to conduct drug research and development more efficiently.
The following are the primary healthcare AI companies in China:
AI Medical imaging: Airdoc, YITU依图科技, InferVISION (推想科技)
Author: Rita Fan