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BAT Health efforts

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China faces a healthcare crisis. Medical resources are scarce and unevenly distributed.

The ratio of doctors in China to 1,000 citizens is only 2.2. While this is roughly equal to the United Kingdom and the United States, it is a long way behind many other OECD nations, including Australia, France and Switzerland.

At the end of 2016, there were 993,000 medical and health institutions, including 29,000 hospitals. There were 8.44 million health technicians, including 3.17 million practicing physicians, including assistants and 3.5 million registered nurses.

At the end of 2012, there were only 12,958 public hospitals. From 2012 to 2016, the number of private hospitals witnessed a 56.8% boom, increasing from 9,768 to 15, 303.

However, most of the medical resources – including doctors – are concentrated in the eastern coastal provinces. Quality is something of a postcode lottery, with most of the tertiary and ungraded hospitals located in rural areas.

It is into this disjointed and poorly served market that BAT has been concentrating their healthcare efforts.

Open sesame

Alibaba’s Ant Financial has seen its Xiang Hu Bao online mutual aid platform grow in popularity over the past year as it quickly expands its healthcare offerings to meet the shortfall in provision.

Ali Health, Alibaba’s healthcare subsidiary, has invested US$ 58.7 million in acquiring a 25% stake In the Guizhou Ensure drugstore chain, which owns more than 1,000 pharmacies across China.

Ali Health is working with Merck to develop its drug-tracking platform in order to offer artificial intelligence (AI) based diagnostics. This will largely cover chronic disease management services across diabetes, thyroid disorders and cardiovascular diseases and makes use of .

Ali Health’s online healthcare support to ensure the safe use of pharmaceuticals, while offering additional add on services to patients.

The service is also fast. Any medicine orders placed on the Taobao platform will arrive within 30 minutes during the day, and an hour if ordered during the night.

Digital doctors and nurses

In October 2019, AliHealth piloted a new digitised solution for hospitals in Zhejiang province’s Quzhou city that allowed patients with chronic conditions to speak to doctors and have medication delivered to their homes using only their smartphones.

This is a part of a major push from Alibaba Group’s healthcare arm looks to enhance the consumer experience in the healthcare by replacing hospital journeys with remote digital services or rolling out a 24/7 pharmacy delivery services in cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Wuhan.

Tencent has taken this project to heart and is developing a private healthcare network that offers an ecosystem of both online and offline services in a nation where access to medical care is becoming increasingly difficult.

This new venture, called Tencent Trusted Doctors, will have 33 clinics in eight cities in China and has ambitions to become the biggest private medical care network.

Diagnosis and medication via WeChat

Tencent also began testing real time clinic services in its WeChat wallet feature and app ecosystem earlier this year. An app called Tencent Health has been tested on super messaging app WeChat since mid-March.

It allows users to access online consultations and medication delivery. It also allows them to book appointments online for face to face hospital appointments.

The app is also accessible on WeChat Pay’s interface as an in-app service to users based in Shenzhen.

The Tencent-backed e-health startup provides access to online consultations with more than 440,000 qualified Chinese doctors registered on its system.

Pharmacy chain Star365 offers over-the-counter medicine sales and delivery is booked via WeChat.

Currently, there is no charge for these services.

No need for territorial warfare – yet

It would appear that Tencent and AliHealth can exist in the same space. Tencent does not have the cloud presence of AliHealth and is focused on optimising its social networks.

There are advantages in using WeChat minigrams which can make use of WeChat accounts, mobile payments and data security to support healthcare service providers build better services and relationships with its clients.

AliHealth’s focus is on improving services inside these institutions, augmenting healthcare management with AI while improving access through external digital links.

While they will begin to compete, for the time being, practitioners and patients will benefit from having these large, well-financed organisations delivering innovations to the healthcare sector.

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