Online-medicine as a new consumer trend

A side from the revolutionary advances in vaccine development and effectiveness, the challenge of COVID-19 brought about one other transformative medical breakthrough.
The widespread application of digital technology is ushering in large improvements in mass healthcare delivery in the emerging world. Once again, China serves as the prime example—and once again it demonstrates how the emerging world can use technology to turn a lack of infrastructure to advantage and leapfrog more developed markets. Even before the pandemic, China’s healthcare system suffered from chronic and misdirected under-investment and struggled to keep up with the demands of an aging population.
One leading digital provider, Ping An Good Doctor, calculated that patients had to endure up to three hours in commuting and waiting time for an eight-minute face-to-face consultation with their physician. The emergency rooms in the hospitals equipped with intensive care units, about 8% of the national total, received about half the outpatient visits.

Ping An Good Doctor
The largest provider of online doctor consultations
In contrast to China’s under-invested healthcare system, the major internet platforms, Alibaba, Tencent, and, 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.