In­ter­net ini­tia­tive gives pa­tients net profit

China’s hospi­tals are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to on­line tech­nol­ogy to pro­vide bet­ter ser­vices, as Wang Xiaodong re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

Like many pa­tients, Huang Li (not her real name) used to get up early and wait in line for two hours or even longer at big hospi­tals to see a se­nior doc­tor.

But re­cently she dis­cov­ered a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive, one that al­lows her to sit in front of her home com­puter chat­ting with a doc­tor from the hos­pi­tal via a video link and pay­ing her bills on­line. A day later, the drugs pre­scribed by the doc­tor are de­liv­ered to her home.

Huang, a res­i­dent of Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, who has chest pains re­lated to heart dis­ease, had her first on­line di­ag­no­sis on Dec 10 with a doc­tor from the Se­cond Af­fil­i­ated Hos­pi­tal of Zhe­jiang Univer­sity’s School ofMedicine.

“Her con­di­tion is sta­ble and she can con­tinue to take the same medicines as be­fore,” saidWang Jian’an, a doc­tor spe­cial­iz­ing in car­diac dis­ease at the hos­pi­tal, af­ter check­ing the test re­sults that Huang scanned and up­loaded. Wang had pre­vi­ously di­ag­nosed Huang and pre­scribed drugs for her in per­son.

“It used to take about half a day for me to go to the hos­pi­tal and fin­ish see­ing a doc­tor,” Huang said. “Now I can just sit at home and fin­ish the en­tire process in just a few min­utes.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Zhe­jiang Pro­vin­cial Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, the 59-year-old was one of the first pa­tients to use on­line med­i­cal ser­vices af­ter the Wuzhen In­ter­net Hos­pi­tal, China’s first In­ter­net hos­pi­tal, opened on Dec 7.

Clin­i­cal ser­vices have in­creased rapidly since the WIH, based in Wuzhen, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, opened, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Guimin, amar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for theWe Doc­tor Group, which op­er­ates the hos­pi­tal.

By late Jan­uary, the WIH had linked with more than 1,900 hospi­tals— in­clud­ing the Se­cond Af­fil­i­ated Hos­pi­tal at Zhe­jiang Univer­sity’s School of Medicine — across China which pro­vide more than 4,400 on­line di­ag­noses on av­er­age ev­ery day, Zhang said.

At the brick-and-mor­tar Wuzhen Hos­pi­tal, dozens of doc­tors from dif­fer­ent hospi­tals pro­vide re­mote con­sul­ta­tions and di­ag­noses on the In­ter­net. But its ma­jor func­tion is that it acts as a plat­form that links doc­tors and pa­tients across China via the In­ter­net, so reg­is­tered pa­tients and doc­tors from across the coun­try can com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly on­line, Zhang said.

“We are plan­ning to work with lo­cal health au­thor­i­ties so a sim­i­lar In­ter­net hos­pi­tal can be set up in ev­ery pro­vin­cial area of China to help pa­tients un­der­take all the work it is pos­si­ble to con­duct on­line,” Zhang said.

En­cour­aged byChina’s top lead­er­ship, In­ter­net-re­lated tech­nolo­gies have rapidly been uti­lized to boost the de­vel­op­ment of var­i­ous sec­tors, in­clud­ing health, in re­cent years. Hospi­tals have also wel­comed th­ese tech­nolo­gies, aim­ing to im­prov­ing ser­vices for pa­tients. In­ten­si­fy­ing the merger of health ser­vices and In­ter­net tech­nolo­gies has be­come a pop­u­lar trend, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts.

“The In­ter­net is be­com­ing more in­volved in med­i­cal ser­vices and the in­te­gra­tion of the In­ter­net and med­i­cal care ser­vices of­fers great po­ten­tial,” said Song Shuli, spokes­woman of the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, China’s top health au­thor­ity.

“The use of new tech­nolo­gies can help us to im­prove man­age­ment and ser­vices. We will con­tinue to ex­pand and im­prove ser­vices and pro­mote ‘re­mote’ and ‘mo­bile’ med­i­cal care.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the China In­ter­net De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion in Jan­uary, mo­bile In­ter­net tech­nol­ogy was widely adopted in med­i­cal care ser­vices in ma­jor cities in China last year, help­ing res­i­dents to ac­cess ser­vices such as clin­i­cal reg­is­tra­tion, pay med­i­cal bills, check med­i­cal re­ports and in­ter­act with doc­tors on­line.

Last year, nearly 400 hospi­tals con­nected with Ali­pay, a pop­u­lar on­line pay­ment plat­form, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. The hospi­tals have pro­vided more than 50 mil­lion on­line ser­vices, such as mak­ing ap­point­ments and pay­ing for clin­i­cal reg­is­tra­tion, since the pro­ject was es­tab­lished in May 2014. The move has re­duced the time pa­tients need to see a doc­tor, the re­port said.

Be­fore the WIH was set up, sev­eral other hospi­tals, in­clud­ing Guang­dong No 2 Pro­vin­cial Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal, had al­ready started of­fer­ing par­tial on­line ser­vices. But un­like the WIH, the other hospi­tals usu­ally pro­vide on­line ser­vices in­di­vid­u­ally and are not linked with other es­tab­lish­ments in a net­work.

For years more big hospi­tals, mostly in larger cities such as Bei­jing and Shang­hai, have been of­fer­ing ser­vices, such as staff train­ing and tech­ni­cal guid­ance, to smaller hospi­tals in less-de­vel­oped re­gions. For ex­am­ple, the China-Ja­pan Friend­ship Hos­pi­tal in Bei­jing has been of­fer­ing such on­line ser­vices since 1998 to grass­roots hospi­tals in the west of the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the hos­pi­tal.

In Jan­uary, an on­line hos­pi­tal, jointly es­tab­lished by Wuhan Cen­tralHospi­tal, in­Wuhan, Hubei prov­ince, and AliHealth— which has the e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba as its ma­jor­ity share­holder — opened for ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Eco­nomic In­for­ma­tion Daily. Doc­tors from Wuhan Cen­tral Hos­pi­tal con­duct on­line video di­ag­noses and pro­vide elec­tronic pre­scrip­tions whereby the drugs will be de­liv­ered to pa­tients, the re­port said.

More on­line hospi­tals, mainly aimed at pa­tients liv­ing in re­mote vil­lages in­Hubei, maybe built by the com­pany in the fu­ture, the re­port said.

WIHshares on­line re­sources with gua­hao.com, a pop­u­lar In­ter­net ser­vice that al­lows pa­tients to reg­is­ter and con­sult doc­tors on­line and is also op­er­ated by the We Doc­tor Group. This means the num­ber of reg­is­tered pa­tients and doc­tors for the In­ter­net hos­pi­tal could reach more than 110 mil­lion, said Zhang, from the group.

In ad­di­tion to of­fer­ing pa­tients greater con­ve­nience, such as short­en­ing di­ag­no­sis times, the In­ter­net hos­pi­tal also has anum­berof ad­van­tages that tra­di­tional brick-and­mor­tar hospi­tals can­not pro­vide, he said.

“Doc­tors with dif­fer­ent types of ex­per­tise can form groups and share their ex­per­tise on­line when giv­ing di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment to gravely ill pa­tients, which is dif­fi­cult to achieve at tra­di­tional hospi­tals,” he said.

Pa­tients can reg­is­ter by log­ging onto the In­ter­net or via a mo­bile phone app. Once reg­is­tered, they can choose doc­tors and make reser­va­tions, con­sult a doc­tor via a video link and re­ceive elec­tronic pre­scrip­tions.

Once pa­tients have paid the bills on­line, they wait un­til the drugs are de­liv­ered to their homes by courier com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to in­struc­tions on the hos­pi­tal’s web­site.

In ad­di­tion to con­nect­ing hospi­tals na­tion­wide through the In­ter­net, the hos­pi­tal also has off­line op­er­a­tions, such as op­er­at­ing and test­ing cen­ters. The hos­pi­tal’s first op­er­at­ing cen­ter was set up in Xiaoshan Hos­pi­tal in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, on Jan 17, so those who need surgery af­ter pre­lim­i­nary on­line con­sul­ta­tions can be trans­ferred for treat­ment, Zhang said.

“We are build­ing more such cen­ters to meet the de­mand from the pa­tients,” he said.

“The on­line hos­pi­tal can re­ally help peo­ple in less-de­vel­oped ar­eas, where high-qual­ity med­i­cal re­sources are scarce, so they can also get high-qual­ity med­i­cal care by talk­ing with doc­tors from top hospi­tals, just as long as they are con­nected on the In­ter­net,” Zhang said.

How­ever, he added that In­ter­net hospi­tals can­not com­pletely re­place tra­di­tional brick-and-mor­tar hospi­tals, as in most cases a doc­tor has to see a pa­tient in per­son to pro­vide bet­ter di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment.

“On­line hospi­tals are pri­mar­ily aimed at pa­tients with com­mon, chronic ill­nesses, such as hy­per­ten­sion and di­a­betes, or those who are fa­mil­iar with their ail­ments and have to go to see a doc­tor for the same prob­lem re­peat­edly,” he said.

For ex­am­ple, a pa­tient with hy­per­ten­sion who has to visit a doc­tor reg­u­larly for pre­scrip­tions, can con­sult a doc­tor on­line and have the cor­rect med­i­ca­tion de­liv­ered to them in­stead of go­ing to a hos­pi­tal, he said.

“A pa­tient must first have been di­ag­nosed at a brick-and-mor­tar hos­pi­tal be­fore they can have the on­line treat­ment,” he said.

Wang, from the Se­cond Af­fil­i­ated Hos­pi­tal at Zhe­jiang Univer­sity’s School ofMedicine, said the ben­e­fits are man­i­fold: “The In­ter­net hos­pi­tal is an in­no­va­tive ef­fort that will greatly ben­e­fit both pa­tients and doc­tors. In par­tic­u­lar it’s suit­able for pa­tients with chronic dis­eases who are seek­ing re-ex­am­i­na­tion. It will be more con­ve­nient for them and will also im­prove the doc­tors’ ef­fi­ciency.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, China’s hospi­tals and clin­ics pro­vided nearly 5.7 bil­lion clin­i­cal treat­ments dur­ing the first nine months of last year, a rise of 2.8 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2014.

A large num­ber of those pa­tients have chronic dis­eases, such as di­a­betes, which re­quire fre­quent re-di­ag­no­sis. That makes big hospi­tals even more crowded, ac­cord­ing to Han Xiao­fang, for­mer di­rec­tor of Bei­jingMed­i­cal Re­form Of­fice.

Wang said: “I think In­ter­net hospi­tals will be­come a trend. In the fu­ture, doc­tors will be able to serve

pa­tients both on and off­line.”

Zuo Xiaodong, vice-pres­i­dent of the China In­for­ma­tion Se­cu­rity Re­search In­sti­tute, praised the on­line hos­pi­tal for of­fer­ing pa­tients greater con­ve­nience, but was con­cerned about in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity.

“On­line med­i­cal plat­forms col­lect a large amount of data about pa­tients, which also at­tracts in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and other in­sti­tu­tions in the med­i­cal in­dus­try,” he said.

“Leaks of pa­tients’ pri­vate in­for­ma­tion may hap­pen if th­ese on­line plat­forms fail to pro­tect the in­for­ma­tion prop­erly,” he said, urg­ing plat­form oper­a­tors to make stren­u­ous ef­forts to en­sure med­i­cal web­sites can­not be hacked.

Ning Fang­gang, a doc­tor who spe­cial­izes in treat­ing burns in­juries at Bei­jing Jishui­tan Hos­pi­tal, said it is not pos­si­ble for on­line hospi­tals to re­place their brick-and-mor­tar coun­ter­parts be­cause the di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of many dis­eases can­not be ac­com­plished through on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions only.

Ad­di­tion­ally, on­line med­i­cal ser­vices may put doc­tors and pa­tients at risk if dis­putes arise be­tween them, due to a lack of laws re­lated to the ser­vices, he said.

“On­line med­i­cal care ser­vices should com­ple­ment the brick-and­mor­tar med­i­cal care ser­vices so they be­come more con­ve­nient,” he said.

Cao Yin con­trib­uted to this story.

Con­tact the writer at wangx­i­aodong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

— WANG XIAODONG — WANG XIAODONG

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