China eager to embrace tech to meet overflowing health care demands

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 6:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 4:28pm

Patients need to have plenty of patience, especially in China’s under-resourced health care system where rural parents often travel with their sick children to seek treatment at Beijing’s Children Hospital but end up having to literally camp outside because of a shortage of lodgings in the city, or where the needs of the ageing population are rising with more than 200 million people aged over 60, equivalent to the entire population of Indonesia.

It is no wonder the country is so eager to embrace technology to meet the overflowing demand for health care services.

Medical equipment and pharmaceuticals were designated as priorities for research and development under a new three year plan unveiled by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s top economic planning body.

China will encourage independent research on medical imaging equipment, devices for assistive diagnosis and treatment, and the establishment of professional technological platforms to monitor quality of the equipment, the NDRC noted.

The R&D push is part of an ambitious goal to improve average life expectancy from 76.3 years in 2015 to 79 year old by 2030, and reduce mortality rates among young patients with chronic diseases by a third, from 19.1 per cent, according to a guideline issued by the State Council.

How AI can help China meet its growing health care needs

China further loosened regulations on internet health care services, allowing hospitals to conduct remote medical consultations online, and letting doctors write online prescriptions for the most common and chronic diseases, according to an April notice from the State Council.

Developing AI assistive diagnostic systems, cloud-based training platforms, and wearable health devices were also among the “innovations” mentioned by the State Council.

“The spring for internet enabled health services has come,” said Liao Jieyuan, chairman of WeDoctor Holdings. The eight-year-old health care services provider counts Tencent and AIA Group among its financial backers. It operates cloud-based services for governments, hospitals and medical institutions, as well as bricks-and-mortar primary care centres.

With the health care industry heavily reliant on data and regulation, the country is also accelerating efforts to create a database of digital health records and expects to achieve inter-connectivity of information among tertiary hospitals by 2020, according to the April notice.

Health care requirements may well be the perfect fit for AI, said Fang Cong, vice-president of start-up Yitu Healthcare, adding that the applications have grown from “diagnosis of a single disease to multiple ones, and from natural language processing or computer vision to comprehensive analysis”.