Epidemic outbreak boosts uplift of telemedicine

By Yuan Yuan

Fan Gaowei, a physician in Yuncheng, Shanxi Province in north China, has been very busy since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). He communicates with over 100 patients every day, provides diagnosis and receives payment, all via an app called Medlinker.
As visiting the hospital became a challenge during the epidemic outbreak, the online medical care industry saw a sharp increase in demand.
Online medical platforms acted fast to fill the gap. On January 22, one day before Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic in China, was locked down, Medlinker launched its free medical consultation service platform. By March 22, it had connected over 4,000 respiratory and infectious disease doctors with more than 360,000 patients.
Medlinker mainly serves people with chronic diseases. From the outbreak to March 22, it had seen a tripling of the number of patients registered with the platform and a 159-percent increase in the number of medical consultations conducted via it, according to a report on Sina.com.
Telemedicine has been developing in China for years. In 2000, the Sanjiu Enterprise Group, a large state-owned pharmaceutical enterprise in China, launched a website offering medical care information. It is regarded as China’s first such platform. In the same year, Dxy.cn, a website designed for medical professionals to share knowledge and experiences, was also set up.
In the following years, telemedicine has experienced ups and downs. In the early stage of its development, one of its aims was to help patients in remote areas get easier access to high-quality medical resources in more developed areas.
In 2014, the industry witnessed an upsurge. In that year, Ping An, one of China’s largest health insurers, launched the platform Good Doctor, covering a wide range of services and available 24 hours a day. In December 2015, China’s first Internet hospital was set up in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province in east China, marking a new era of telemedicine in China.
E-commerce giants JD.com and Alibaba have both set up their own e-health platforms, JD Health and Ali Health, respectively.
The government has issued a series of notices and guidelines to regulate the industry. In 2018 alone, the National Health Commission (NHC) issued three important administrative measures for telemedicine.
By October 2019, the number of Internet hospitals in China reached 269. “However, despite the rise in the number, many people still prefer to visit a physical hospital to receive medical help,” said Cai Xiujun, an expert from Zhejiang. “It will take some time before people develop the habit of going to Internet hospitals.”
The epidemic has brought a sudden change in the situation. “This epidemic is believed to be the turning point in the recognition of online medical care,” said Wang Shirui, founder of Medlinker. “Contactless medical services have reduced the risk of cross infection. People will gradually realize that they can get general consultation and prescriptions for chronic diseases online without having to go to hospital, and will get used to using online medical service platforms in the future.”
– The Daily Mail Beijing Review News exchange item