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digital healthcare in China

Digital healthcare in China: Powered by tech giants amid Covid-19 outbreak

Digital healthcare is the integration of cutting-edge technologies such as the Internet of Things, big data, and artificial intelligence in the field of healthcare, which includes digitization, standardization and intelligence of medical consultation and pharmaceutical services. 

The number of online medical users increased from 214.8 million in December 2020 to 233.33 million in Jun 2021, a growth rate of 11.42%. At the same time, digital healthcare in China has also attracted a large number investments: the total amount of financing in 2018 exceeded 1.9 billion U.S. dollars. The scale of the Internet medical market in China in 2019 was 133 billion yuan, and reached 200 billion yuan in 2020. It proves that this industry has big opportunities for further development, especially considering the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

How COVID-19 contributed to the growth of digital healthcare in China

The COVID-19 outbreak has increased the demand for online medical consultations and drug purchases, which has led to the gradual development of online consultation platforms. The scale of my digital healthcare in China rapidly expanded to 196 billion yuan in 2020, an increase of 47% year-on-year. Moreover, from January till September 2020, 244 new digital hospitals were established, increasing the total amount to 600. In general, the 48th “Statistical Report on Internet Development in China” shows that the user utilization rate of online medical services has increased by 2 percentage points from 21.75% at the end of 2020 to 23.7% in 2021.

Digital healthcare market in China digital healthcare in China
Data Source: Qianzhan Industry Research Institute, designed by daxue consulting, Digital healthcare market in China

How digital healthcare can help people with chronic diseases

Currently, there are over 300 million people in China who suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and cardio-cerebral vascular diseases and other chronic diseases. The application of digital mobile health management systems and wearable devices is conducive to real-time tracking and collection of health data, significantly strengthening the ability to monitor and control chronic diseases, and at the same time can greatly save medical costs.

Online pharmacies as a part of digital healthcare in China

Chinese pharmaceutical e-commerce has three models: O2O, B2B and B2C, of which B2B sales accounted for more than 90% of the market. In 2020, China’s pharmaceutical e-commerce sales exceeded 190 billion yuan. According to the estimates of China Business Intelligence Network, the market scale will continue to expand to nearly 380 billion yuan in 2025. At present, the choice of medicines in China’s medical e-commerce are 15-25 times higher that of offline pharmacies. In contrast, online pharmacies have prominent advantages. Online pharmacies are not restricted by the size, and their drug types reserve and supply capacity are stronger than that of offline pharmacies, and there are more types to choose from.

Online pharmacies market in China digital healthcare in China
Data Source: China Business Intelligence Network, designed by daxue consulting, Online pharmacies market in China

Online medical consultation platforms drive digital healthcare in China

Currently, the major listed companies in the online medical industry include Ping An Good Doctor, Ali Health, JD Health. Ping An Good Doctor, which was established earlier, was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2018 and became the first listed stock in the online medical industry.

Ping An Good Doctor: the leader in digital healthcare in China

In 2020 in order to help doctors at the frontline of fight against epidemic, Ping An Doctor, together with Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, Fuzhou Municipal Health Commission, Hefei Municipal Health Commission, and Tangshan Municipal Medical Security Bureau, jointly opened a free consultation hotline. During 2020, Ping An’s Internet medical platform, Ping An Doctor, received 1.1 billion user visits. Ping An Doctor app is far ahead in the number of active users comparing to other platforms. As of the end of 2020, the number of registered users of the company reached 372.8 million, an increase of 18.3% since the end of 2019. During the same period, the number of active doctors online was 1.7 million. In the first half of 2021, the company’s total revenue was 3.8 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 39%.

How does it work?

Ping An App, Interface digital healthcare in China
Source: Ping An App, Interface

First, the AI ​​doctor assistant matches the most suitable doctor according to the patient’s input requirements before the consultation. After that, the doctor’s team does a rapid consultation with the assistance of AI doctors’ assistants to diagnose common diseases. If needed, external doctors provide services such as non-real-time online consultations. On top of this, famous doctors can formulate expert diagnosis and treatment plans, and provide high-quality online and offline overall medical services.

Ali Health: powered by tech giant Alibaba

Alibaba Health includes online medical consultation and pharmaceutical ecommerce. According to the 2021 performance report released by Ali Health as of March 31, 2021, Ali Health’s income was RMB 155 million, a year-on-year increase of 61.7%. The increase in revenue was mainly due to the rapid growth of pharmaceutical e-commerce platform business and pharmaceutical self-operated business during the reporting period. 

During the pandemic, Alibaba Health launched the independent medical and health service APP “Yilu” in September 2020. According to the financial report, as of March 31, 2021, the number of monthly active users of the Yilu APP has exceeded one million in the first six months of its launch without using the conventional traffic purchase methods of Internet online user growth. As of March 31, 2021, Alibaba Health has established cooperative relationships with more than 3,000 public and private medical examination institutions to provide users with consumer-level and professional/medical-level tests and consultation.

How it works

Yilu App, Interface digital healthcare in China
Source: Yilu App, Interface

With the Yilu mobile app, users can make appointments for doctors online without having to wait in long lines at the hospital. The powerful data network connects with city hospitals across the country to make it no longer difficult to see a doctor. Also, there are professional doctors and experts answering questions and providing comprehensive health advice for free.

JD Health: family doctor services

With the addition of more and more national top-level doctors, JD Health has established a plausible Internet medical service system in the industry.  Currently, JD Health Internet Hospital has more than 130,000 external cooperative doctors and medical experts, and the average daily online consultation volume exceeds 160,000. As of June 30th, 2021, the number of annual active users in the past 12 months reached 109 million, a year-on-year increase of more than 18.8 million active users.  The financial report shows that JD Health’s total revenue in the first half of 2020 was 13.64 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 55.4%.

How it works

JD Corporate, Interface digital healthcare in China
Source: JD Corporate, Interface

JD Health uses artificial intelligence to advise patients on the right doctor to schedule appointments based on their symptoms. One of the most significant functions of this app is family doctor service. Up to eight family members can benefit from the Family Doctor package, which includes unlimited 24/7 medical advice with immediate response from a general doctor, specialist medical consultation within 48 hours, and face-to-face appointments with famous doctors. JD Health is dedicated to serving 50 million Chinese families a year. Since its launch, the average monthly growth rate of users has been 220%, what proves the demand for such services in China.

Key takeaways about e-healthcare in China:

  • Covid-19 outbreak contributed to the growth of digital healthcare in China, as tech giants decided to help hospitals at the frontline.
  • Digital pharma industry and consultation are becoming the new reality for more and more Chinese citizens, also helping people with chronic diseases.
  • Online medical consultation platforms gain more attention from Chinese citizens, offering special services such as family doctors and special medical consultations.

Author: Valeriia Mikhailova