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China to lead in healthcare breakthroughs

By Luo Weiteng in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-07 10:02
A healthcare management APP. [Photo/IC]

AI, big data ensures high-quality, affordable services are made available to more people

China leads the pack in the next healthcare breakthrough with the government and stalwart innovators bankrolling a big effort in artificial intelligence and big data that could essentially blaze a new trail in the sector, says an expert.

"For years, the United States has been seen as the impeccable frontrunner for a big bang coming in the healthcare sector, in terms of money invested in digital healthcare, as well as the number of groundbreaking startups," said Sigal Atzmon, president of Medix Group, an international company that offers medical case management.

"When it comes to the implementation of trailblazing technologies in the healthcare sector, however, China is the clear leader," Atzmon noted.

Unlike the United States, where people have the "whole existing infrastructure legacy" that must be taken down and an awfully lot of stakeholders involved who may not favor a change, China has much more freedom to chart its own course and implement the game-changing technologies thanks to the "late-mover advantage", or how innovative newcomers outperform pioneers, she said.

The Belgium-born senior corporate executive, who founded Medix in 2006 after her own scary experience with a breast mammogram, believes AI technology and digital healthcare stand as the unique and cost-effective answer for the country's under-doctored, underfunded and overburdened hospitals, where patients reportedly have to wait a long time or even pay large sums of money to middlemen to get appointments with renowned specialists.

The nation's 1.4 billion population, which is ageing more rapidly than ever before and is crying for accessible, proper and high-quality healthcare services, is driving the country to press ahead with new healthcare solutions.

"Government and big market players like Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and Ping An do not just talk the talk, but they walk the walk. The major new technologies are not concepts on paper. Millions of people across the country are actually using them," Atzmon said.

To be sure, Ping An-backed Good Doctor and Tencent-backed We Doctor represent the digital makeover of China's creaking healthcare system.

The pair of online healthcare and medical platforms encompassing medical advice, appointment booking and niche services are virtually releasing some of the pressure on the nation's understaffed and overstretched hospitals.

"In three to five years, AI technology and digital healthcare will bring fundamental changes to China's healthcare system. User-friendly platforms like Good Doctor and We Doctor just mark the very first move," Atzmon said.

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