As China strives to create a healthy society by 2030, it is being held back by the medical providers at the frontline of care. A new ecosystem model integrating stakeholders with digital technology will empower the healers

China’s achievement of lifting 600m people out of poverty within a generation came with a healthcare side-effect. For a snapshot, consider diabetes.

With many people adopting Western diets, especially fast-food, China’s diabetic population has grown to 114m people, making it the world’s largest. And the most troubling aspect of this picture is that only 37 per cent of China’s diabetics are even aware that they have the disease, often due to lack of basic screening such as blood tests. For comparison, France’s diabetic awareness rate is 67 per cent.

The discrepancy between wealth and health, between disease levels and awareness, tells of a crisis in China’s health provider system. It is the biggest obstacle to creating a healthy society by 2030.

The Ping An Group is committed to empowering health providers through its digital healthcare ecosystem. In particular, its Ping An Smart Healthcare platform enables vertical integration of the health provider network, embracing government, hospitals, doctors, disease screeners and pharmacies.

The needs are enormous. A dearth of primary care, inconsistent doctor quality, outdated and underfunded clinics, overwhelmed public hospitals … These are just a few of the problems preventing millions of Chinese from getting care for — or even knowing about — life-threatening diseases.

In a landmark report entitled Healthy China, the World Bank and the World Health Organization say the primary care deficit alone “compromises the health system’s ability to carry out the core functions of prevention, case detection, early treatment of common illnesses, referral, care integration, and gatekeeping”.

The only solution is a comprehensive, top-down healthcare rethink. Government institutions, which run the vast majority of China’s health services, can partner with private players to forge a new healthcare paradigm that puts people first. It’s what Healthy China calls “a value-based integrated service model of healthcare”.

Digital transformation of China’s provider landscape

Ping An developed the Ping An Smart Healthcare platform to provide an AI-driven “eye” that monitors deficiencies across the health provider network — from hospitals to doctors and pharmacies — and redresses them with ground-breaking medical technologies.

Ping An Smart Healthcare leverages AI acumen, honed over the Ping An Group’s decades of experience building digital ecosystems, to vertically integrate the healthcare chain of government, providers, patients, insurers and technology.

The result? The world's largest smart clinical support platform, chronic disease management platform and medical database. The intelligent synergies are supported by Ping An’s leadership in healthcare technology with the world’s highest number of patent applications.

Today Ping An Smart Healthcare supports more than a half million doctors at 37,000 medical institutions in 158 cities, helping 2.6m chronically ill patients manage their diseases. It deploys over 3,000 AI models that enable everything from patient pre-diagnosis — to help individuals find the right offline medical department — to AI medical imaging, which enables doctors to more efficiently and accurately diagnose the entire range of diseases.

A key priority is deploying online tools to empower offline stakeholders. This means not replacing but extending the reach of offline medical scenarios. As much as China’s digital healthcare market is growing, the majority of treatments, diagnoses and resources are still concentrated offline.

Ping An Smart Healthcare’s mission is to empower all participants of the provider network, starting with the government:

  • Government: The government pays for 50 per cent of China’s medical services, while central and municipal commissions manage the healthcare ecosystem. Ping An Smart Healthcare’s AI solutions transform government’s ability to streamline and modernise medical services with real-time, granular access to data on medical resources.
  • Hospitals: China’s hospital network is severely unbalanced. There are 1m medical institutions, yet 2,500 public hospitals account for nearly a quarter of visits. Ping An Smart Healthcare bridges the quality gap with a holistic solution that addresses issues of resource management, patient service, treatment and diagnostics, and chronic disease control.
  • Medical professionals: China has a shortage of 1m doctors and an estimated 10m nurses. This translates to overworked, under-trained practitioners and sub-par quality. Ping An Smart Healthcare offers groundbreaking AI tools that relieve doctors of routine tasks while providing data-driven insight, freeing them up to deliver better, individualised care.
  • Pharmaceuticals: China is making great strides in world-class drug development. But barriers are high, requiring long-term investment vision. Ping An Smart Healthcare has partnered with Shionogi, a leading Japanese pharmaceuticals company, to infuse cutting-edge technology into Chinese drug discovery to bring advanced solutions to market faster.

AI medical brain for China’s healthcare body

In China’s journey to health, the needs are monumental yet resources limited. Artificial intelligence can be a game-changer in raising Chinese healthcare to global standards.

Ping An Smart Healthcare deploys a robotic helper — AskBob Doctor Workstation — to shoulder tasks normally handled by humans. AskBob is an AI diagnosis and treatment assistant tool featuring a medical database. Since launching in 2019, it has been used 33m times by 710,000 doctors.

Ping An Smart Healthcare’s AI tools plug another shortcoming in China’s provider ecosystem: chronic disease control. In a project with the China Medical Society, Ping An Smart Healthcare has deployed AI to manage 140,000 Type 2 diabetics. It has achieved a 30 per cent improvement in compliance compared to human-only systems.

Ping An Smart Healthcare has also partnered with public institutions in Chongqing to screen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Its AI model can predict COPD with more than 80 per cent accuracy and help to precisely allocate pneumonia vaccine to protect the high risk population.

“Currently we have over 3,000 AI models that do anything ranging from patient self-diagnosis to doctors’ clinical decisions to AI imaging and chronic disease management,” says Geoff Kau, CEO, Ping An Smart Healthcare, at a recent investor day on healthcare. “We have a huge shortage of medical personnel in China, so we’re hoping that AI can play a part in closing the resource gap.”

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