Caixin
Apr 17, 2018 05:41 PM
POLITICS & LAW

Online Hospitals Pass China Checkup

Physicians at Qingdao University Hospital in Qingdao, Shandong province, consult with a patient remotely on March 29. Photo: VCG
Physicians at Qingdao University Hospital in Qingdao, Shandong province, consult with a patient remotely on March 29. Photo: VCG

* The State Council plans to issue guidelines to help the country take advantage of the internet to develop its health care sector

* The guidelines allow traditional hospitals to launch virtual platforms for online consultations

(Beijing) — China’s cabinet has for the first time endorsed “online hospitals” in an official document, an emerging concept that Chinese internet giants Alibaba and Tencent have bet on. But the endorsement comes with restrictions on the model.

The State Council, the country’s cabinet, said during a Monday meeting (link in Chinese) that it would soon issue guidelines to help the country take advantage of the internet to develop its health care sector.

Under the upcoming policy, online hospitals will be allowed to operate in two ways: first, traditional hospitals can launch a virtual platform for online consultations; second, internet firms that already runs websites that connect patients with doctors can continue to do so, but they must affiliate their site with a hospital as their offline entity, said Jiao Yahun, an official from the National Health Commission department tasked with regulating hospitals.

The new regulation may revitalize an industry that was highly restricted last year. In May 2017, the now-defunct National Health and Family Planning Commission issued two draft documents that said that online hospitals should be closed within 15 days.

“I think that (the latest policy) has made great progress and breakthroughs compared with the previous ones,” said Li Tiantian, founder of pharmaceutical industry data tracker DXY.

But patients will not be able to connect with doctors for their initial consultation. Jiao said that first consultation via the internet is forbidden in all countries around the world, but online hospitals can help with subsequent visits.

However, a face-to-face visit will still be required every time for especially vulnerable patients such as children, as well as patients with conditions such as cancer, Jiao added.

As their household income has increased, Chinese people’s demand for health care services has also grown. Internet companies in China also wish to expand into the industry.

The health care subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. on Monday struck a deal with a health care company in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, to establish an online hospital and an artificial intelligence lab in the city.

Tencent Holdings Ltd. expanded into the sector with a 2015 investment in We Doctor Group, which operates a platform for patients to book in-person appointments, consult a doctor online or obtain prescriptions. We Doctor plans to list in Hong Kong in the second half of this year.

Contact reporter Coco Feng (renkefeng@caixin.com)

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