In contrast to China’s under-invested healthcare system, the major internet platforms, Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com, and state-backed conglomerates like the Ping An Group had the experience and resources to quickly take healthcare services online. Their internet and mobile phone services had long ago surpassed the developed markets in enabling sophisticated transactions like mobile payments and banking. As the pandemic broke out, in fact, China’s e-commerce penetration exceeded that of the United States. Over the course of the pandemic year the number of registered users on the Ping An Good Doctor app, the largest provider of online physician consults, rose to 373 million, and monthly “house calls” topped 72.5 million.
Revenues at Alibaba Health, the largest online pharmacy, grew by 70%. We believe the end of the lockdowns should not appreciably affect the trend. A recent survey indicated a high level of satisfaction with internet medicine—three-quarters of those interviewed said they would continue to rely on it. The providers, for their part, have been rolling out new offerings, moving from generalized diagnosis to more targeted services like regular health checkups and chronic disease management.
Ping An Good Doctor foresees 30%–40% of the nation’s outpatient volume ultimately migrating online. The government has an interest in promoting the trend. Not only does it relieve pressure on the hospitals, improve healthcare, and reduce costs, for a population where privacy is not a priority, it opens possibilities for health passports, contact tracing, and pinpoint quarantines.