Tencent-backed WeDoctor hopes app will create ‘health care free economic zone’ in Greater Bay Area

  • WeDoctor Group hopes to offer cheaper medical services by bringing in efficiencies through digitalisation and better matching demand with supply
  • The online health care services provider was valued at US$5.5 billion in May
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 10:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 11:43am

Tencent-backed online health care services provider WeDoctor Group hopes to turn the Greater Bay Area into a “health care free economic zone” through its platform by offering cheaper and efficient cross-border medical services, according to a top executive.

The platform, expected to launch by the end of January, hopes to achieve greater efficiencies and lower costs through digitalisation and sharing of patients’ medical records between hospitals, cross-border medical insurance coverage and better matching of demand and supply of medical services and equipment.

“In Hong Kong, it could take up to a year for patients to get a CT scan done through the public hospital system, but this can be done much faster and for less in a Shenzhen hospital,” said Jeffery Chen, chief strategy officer of the Hangzhou-based start-up, which was valued at US$5.5 billion in the latest round of fundraising in May.

But the road towards its eventual goal of seamless integration of medical resources in the 11 cities in the region – Asia’s largest and most populous area with almost 67 million inhabitants – will be long, he said in an interview.

“The Greater Bay Area itself will need to come up with a more mixed policy framework than what is currently available,” said Chen, a former Credit Suisse and HSBC technology, media and telecommunications sector investment banker. “It will be quite difficult to ensure that the platform is at the forefront of health care services, and at the same time meets all the policy directions that the area’s governments want to set.”

WeDoctor faces competition from rivals such as Ping An Healthcare and Technology – a unit of Ping An Insurance – whose online platform connected over 3,100 mainland hospitals at the end of June.

Better known as Ping An Good Doctor, which listed in Hong Kong in May this year, the company posted a net loss of 444 million yuan (US$64 million) on revenue of 1.12 billion yuan for the six months from January to June 2018.

Currently, mainland hospital services are primarily funded by a state-run health insurance scheme that does not cover Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, government hospitals only charge local residents nominal sums, while private hospital visits are funded by private insurance. Cross-border medical coverage is scarce.

Founded by artificial intelligence expert Jerry Liao Jieyuan in 2010, WeDoctor’s platform is used by over 3,700 mainland hospitals.

It is also in talks with medical authorities in the region to expand the use of its platform and has appointed Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, former chairman of Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, as its regional chairman.

In August, Wu was appointed non-executive chairman of hospitals operator China Resources Phoenix Healthcare Holdings, a unit of state-owned conglomerate China Resources Group.

Chen said Wu has the “right network” and experience to guide the platform’s strategic directions.

So far 10 hospitals in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Chaozhou, Zhanjiang, Foshan, Dongguan, Huizhou and Zhaoqing, and Reproductive Healthcare, Hong Kong’s first non-hospital-based in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinic, have joined the regional platform.

A mobile app will be up and running in two to three months, Chen said, initially allowing patients to make online appointments, receive pre-clinic visit online consultation to assess suitability for medical services such as IVF, and facilitate follow-up online consultations.

It will charge a fee for appointment booking, but it has not decided how and whether it would be paid by service providers or consumers as the decision could have legal liabilities for WeDoctor, Chen said.

It is also in talks with its shareholder and partner AIA on using the platform to help the insurer cut Hong Kong policyholders’ claims costs by providing access to cheaper diagnostics and medical services across the border.

WeDoctor plans to spend around 200 million yuan in the next 12 months to build the regional platform and set up a marketing team in Hong Kong to enlist more clinics and hospitals to join, Chen said.