Your future wellbeing: the rise of digital healthcare

Dr-with-Ipad_webDigitalisation is rapidly transforming China’s healthcare industry. The proliferation of new technologies—big data, cloud computing, APPs and telemedicine—is expanding the industry’s horizons. In doing so, it has affected a shift in the way that patients, healthcare practitioners and pharmaceutical companies interact, towards a relationship that involves increased communication, transparency and efficiency. Bayer HealthCare looks at the rise of digital healthcare and how China is increasingly applying it to overcome inherent problems in its healthcare system.

Patients in China are now engaged more than ever before in health management and disease treatment as digital tools provide them with unprecedented access to information and experience sharing. According to China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), the total number of Chinese Internet users rose to 668 million and the proportion of those who access the Internet via smartphones jumped to a new high of 88.9 per cent by the end of June 2015. Empowered by the vast amounts of information that they now have access to, they tend not to rely on advice from their doctors as much as they previously did, referring to online resources to perform self-diagnoses and take responsibility for their own health instead.

Disruptive technologies have also altered the behaviour of Chinese healthcare practitioners. For example, they increasingly turn to the web to access new medical knowledge and professional information using convenient digital tools such as tablets and smartphones. According to a recent survey conducted by Kantar Health and DXY (one of the largest professional pharmaceutical industry websites in China), in 2015, Chinese physicians spent an average of 12.5 hours per week on the Internet engaged in professional-related activities, an increase of 30 per cent compared to the 9.6 hours that were reported in 2014.

The way that pharmaceutical companies interact with patients and physicians has changed, too. They are partnering with e-commerce providers due to an increasing number of consumers who are beginning to purchase medicine online. They also need to provide disease management solutions and deploy big data analytics to improve the efficiency of sales and marketing. As new business models and processes have made the healthcare industry increasingly more customer-centric and outcome-focused, pharmaceutical companies are called to understand the changing landscape, identify opportunities, threats and risks, and find out ways to achieve better healthcare outcomes.

Despite the fact that China has successfully built one of the largest medical insurance networks in the world, which is stated to cover more than 1.3 million people, or 95 per cent of the national population, noticeable tension still exists among different parties, partly due to the insufficient supply of medical care services as well as the imbalanced distribution between urban and rural areas, large and small hospitals.

To redress these problems, China is actively exploring the possibilities offered by digital healthcare: information technology is regarded as a key factor in the country’s ongoing medical reform. In addition to the Healthy China 2020 Strategy Research Report, released by China’s Ministry of Health (now the National Health and Family Planning Commission, NHFPC), which stated that in the next few years the central government will invest CNY 61.1 billion on the National Electronic Health System Project, the State Council recently promulgated the National Medical and Health Care Service System Planning (2015-2020). This report states that the government is pledging to utilise emerging information technology, such as the Internet of Things, to improve the overall standards of it healthcare services.

Supporting the government’s digital healthcare pursuits and embracing opportunities to meet the country’s huge, as-yet-unmet medical needs, pharmaceutical multinational corporations (MNCs) have astutely taken action. Many of them already employ digitally-enabled, customer-centric marketing, which is epitomised by closed-loop marketing (CLM), a system used in the pharmaceutical industry to fine-tune the understanding of physicians’ interests and to create more value for them. When medical representatives visit physicians and deliver information to them via tablets, the CLM system is able to document what particular information aroused a physician’s attention and for how long they stayed on a particular page. This allows them to understand more clearly what is already working and what requires a greater level of focus, which in turn allows for customisation of product information to match each physician’s patient profile and interests. In turn, physicians feel more prepared because they can learn about the aspects that are relevant to their specific patients, and are thereby more able to provide a better level of care.

Digitalisation is also helping to push the boundaries of doctor-patient interaction. For example, in the past, out-patients in China usually had to wait for an average of 1.5 hours in large hospitals before being able to talk to a physician. What is more, physicians spend only 3-5 minutes with each patient on average, with nearly half of this time spent inquiring about basic disease information to get a clear health picture for their records.

To make this process more efficient, the NHFPC joined hands with some leading pharma companies to install touch-screen devices in the Cardiovascular and Endocrinology Departments of some Chinese hospitals. During their waiting time, patients are able to enter personal information such as age, weight, family disease history, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels into the device. The system can assess their cardiovascular risk based on pre-set algorithms, translate the result into a risk profile and print out the results on a slip of paper that the patient can present to the physician. This innovation effectively saves physicians’ time, makes patients’ waiting hours more productive while helping the patients to understand more about their own health condition.

The transition to digital healthcare is seeing a fundamental shift of focus from ‘product-and-service’ value to ‘meaning-based’ value. A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group estimates that the digital healthcare market in China, measured by spending on the sector, will expand more than 36-fold from USD 3 billion in 2014 to USD 110 billion in 2020. The advent of a digital age is creating tremendous opportunities for healthcare companies, if they are ready to embrace the complexity and speed of change that digitalisation entails.

Looking to the future, by leveraging digital innovation, products and services will become more personalised, physicians and patients more engaged, decisions and product evidence more data driven, and business processes more immediate. Every company that wants to capture this opportunity will need to think carefully how the digital changes will affect them, understand how it can succeed in the digital age, and design its own roadmap to finally provide better care for patients.

The Bayer Group is a global enterprise with core competencies in the fields of healthcare and agriculture. Its subgroup Bayer HealthCare is one of the world’s leading, innovative companies in the healthcare industry. The company proactively uses new technologies to harnesses the full potential of digitalisation for better healthcare outcomes for customers and society at large.