In China, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken telemedicine to a whole new dimension. The number of telemedicine services rose from fewer than 150 to more than 600 between late 2019 and summer 2020, reports the Wall Street Journal. This impressive increase could mark a similar trend in the rest of the world.
Chinese giants took the opportunity
However, it was an unprofitable market in the Middle Kingdom. The population was not necessarily aware of these platforms and was more used to traditional consultations in a country where health insurance does not fully cover patients. However, the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in January changed everything as telemedicine services quickly provided services and free information related to the virus.
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The Chinese tech giants saw a golden opportunity, and many of them have expanded their businesses in this area. The Ping An Good Doctor platform, one of the leading telemedicine platforms in the country, had more than 1 billion visits in three weeks at the start of the pandemic. Alibaba Health Department, number 1 in e-commerce in China, called Alibaba Health, has now released a real-time map listing the places people with the coronavirus have visited.
For its part, JD Health, a subsidiary of the JD.com website, has moved from selling medicines online to providing telemedicine consultations. In particular, the company introduced a digital service for family medicine. Logically, the juggernaut Tencent also took its chance. The WeDoctor platform connected to WeChat (owned by Tencent) has actually connected more than 7,200 hospitals to their platform. The latter organizes virtual consultations between patients and healthcare professionals through the messaging application.
The government encourages the practice
Chinese interest in telemedicine was also encouraged by the government. In March, health authorities encouraged reimbursement of online consultations and the sale of common medicines. Now telemedicine is cheaper and faster to use for residents of the country, although services are currently limited to common chronic and family medical diseases. For example, they cannot make a diagnosis without a real encounter. However, the government plans to expand these functions.
Despite this incredible leap for telemedicine in China, the platforms are not much more profitable than they were before. Most of the time, they make money selling drugs. However, companies will continue to expand this market with enormous opportunities, with financial benefits expected in the future.
The example of China suggests what might be waiting for the rest of the world in the field of telemedicine. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the country has the most advanced digital health system in the world.
As a reminder, telemedicine has also developed in France as a result of the pandemic. In June, more than 50,000 doctors were practicing it.