PingAn Good Doctor: China Healthcare Disrupted

Written by Fengyi Chen || July 16 2019

Imagine you are sick at midnight. You lay in the bed comfortably and consult your private doctor through your smart phone at home. They know your medical history perfectly and give you a personalized prescription online. You don’t need to go to the pharmacy. With a few clicks on an app you purchase drugs and they arrive at your doorstep within an hour and everything is seamless. This is not necessarily a futuristic movie, but rather - reality made possible by PingAn Good Doctor - the largest and artificial intelligence powered mobile medical platform in China.

PingAn Doctor a one stop shop solution for addressing initial medical conditions, including health examination and consultation, online purchase of drugs, brick & mortar clinic appointment registration. The system also keeps a personal health ledger for every user which eventually allows for customization of treatment suggestions and other offerings. The algorithms behind the service were developed by a R&D team of over 200 world-class AI experts and feature 407 million pieces of consultation data (and still growing). As of end of last year, the platform boasted a total of 265.2 million registered users, 54.7 million of which – monthly active. To put these numbers in growth context – this translates into a year-on-year increase of 85.4% and given the potential of the market – the organic growth momentum will not cease any time soon.

AI for a better world 

In China, an estimated 8% of the hospitals take care of more than half of the patients coming from all over the country. Queuing up is unavoidable and can last to more than 3 hours before seeing a doctor for no more than 7 or 8 minutes. Specialists are overloaded, working for more than 12 hours a day. China has one general practitioner for every 6,666 people - a rather high number compared with the international standard of one physician for every 1,500 to 2,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. 

In a recent move, to supplement the Good Doctor App, PingAn placed One-minute Clinics across 8 provinces and cities in China. These AI-powered telephone booth-sized hubs feature virtual doctors providing diagnostic suggestions through text and voice interactions and offer over 100 types of common drugs. Where needed, experienced human-doctors will join the process with additional advice to ensure the accuracy of the whole consultation. If a drug is not available at the clinic, users can purchase it online through the App and expect to have it delivered within an hour. An interesting example of a landing pad is a Volkswagen factory plant in Shanghai where management has opted to replace the traditional infirmary and medical staff with a PingAn Good Doctor booth - to reduce medical and labor costs.  

The future of healthcare belongs to technology companies 

To avoid any confusion – what seems to be a profound disruption of healthcare, as we know it, does not come from a leading clinic or a lab. It comes from a financial technology powerhouse. Or as we more often see in both Western and Asian markets – a technology company – in this case one that started with financial services in its early days.  

PingAn’s vested interest ranges from insurance, banking, asset management, to financial services, health care, smart cities, real estate, auto services. What puts it apart from any other multisector conglomerates is arguably the company’s insatiable appetite for innovation and technology savviness. For the past eleven years PingAn has been investing 1% of company’s revenues into R&D and has pledged an additional 100 billion RMB for developing new technology during the next nine years. Historically, PingAn was among the first financial services incumbents to migrate all their systems on the cloud seven years ago. Then it started working on facial recognition solutions, voiceprint applications, micro-expression recognition, mobile SHI payment and more. Today core technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and cloud are the backbone of the firm’s multisectoral and disruptive offerings. Far exceeding the capacities and vision of many a peer competitor of former times. 

Ping An is not going to be alone at the top 

Back to the business of healthcare, or in this case – the business of machine learning algorithms fixing human conditions, the domestic revenue of internet healthcare market in China is expected to reach 31.38 billion RMB by 2020. While PingAn Good Doctor has the first-mover advantage and the strong backing by PingAn – the insurance mother company, other technology behemoths, such as Alibaba and Tencent are also entering the segment and claiming market share. The reason is clear - eHealth market in China is expected to develop rapidly due to rising demand from an estimated 200 million new middle-class entrants. Who will command the most of the pie and how will the market exactly shape up remains in question for everyone. What we seem to know with more certainty now is that industry boundaries are not what they used to be and the future of healthcare in China seems to belong to financial technology strongholds.