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China technology

Tencent to introduce WebMD’s content on WeChat to improve reliability of medical information in China

Nearly 60 per cent of China’s population use WeChat as a major source of medical and health information

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 10:17pm

Chinese internet giant Tencent will introduce medical content from New York health care site WebMD to its messaging and social media super-app WeChat, in an attempt to fill the gap for more reliable sources of online medical information in China.

A recent content-licensing deal between Tencent and WebMD, the financial details of which weren’t disclosed, allows the Shenzhen-based company to translate WebMD’s health and medical content – including articles and videos – for its one billion active WeChat users and Tencent’s other messaging app QQ, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The WebMD content, which should be available by the end of 2018, will be adapted to focus on diseases with higher prevalence in China, such as lung cancer, according to the report.

Tencent did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Tencent’s chairman Pony Ma has stressed the value of medical-related content sites. “People have been upset by uncertainties over the reliability of online medical information. We hope to have an authoritative and professional intellectual property product that’s recognised globally and of value to public welfare,” he said in a press event at China’s Two Sessions 2017, the annual meetings of the national legislature and the top political advisory body.

Nearly 60 per cent of Chinese people use WeChat as a major source of medical and health information, followed by television and the internet, according to a survey by state media China Youth Daily in 2017. Over half of the respondents said they had fallen victim to unprofessional health and medical advice in the past.

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China has the fastest-growing health care market among the world’s major economies, which is projected to grow at 12 per cent annually to reach US$1 trillion by 2020, and US$2.3 trillion by 2030 according to a 2017 report by McKinsey & Company. Tencent’s WebMD deal comes after a string of investments in Chinese health tech players in recent years by the internet giant, including a 2014 investment in Hangzhou-based DXY, a medical information platform similar to WebMD.

Another investee company WeDoctor Group, a Hangzhou-based online health care services firm valued at US$5.5 billion, is currently seeking an IPO in Hong Kong.

Tencent’s Ma spoke again about the company’s efforts to explore technology applications in the medical field at China’s Two Session 2018 in March. “The application of technology will contribute to more balanced development of medical resources and service capabilities,” said Ma. Technologies including AI, augmented reality, virtual reality and live streaming could be tested out in the less developed areas of the country to compensate for shortages of medical resources, he said.

Health innovation is a national initiative in China with strong backing from the government and the country’s tech giants. Chinese premier Li Keqiang said in his work report earlier this year that the Chinese government would step up research and development of AI technology, and promote the ‘Internet Plus’ model, which integrates the internet into traditional offline industries, in fields such as medical and elderly care.

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In November, Tencent was tasked by the Chinese government to spearhead the development of medical imaging after China’s biggest internet companies – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, collectively known as BAT – were named as the country’s national artificial intelligence (AI) champions.

Tencent launched its first AI-driven medical product Miying in 2017, which is used for speedy endoscopic examinations and disease and cancer detection in more than 100 hospitals across China. The company even opened up its own bricks-and-mortar clinics with medical subsidiary Tencent Doctorwork last year in Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen. Tencent Doctorwork is also developing its AI and big data capabilities in partnership with hospitals and clinics across the country.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.