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Chinese Internet Giant to Fix Backlogged Hospital System

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, June 16 2014

The Internet giant Alibaba Group is angling to disrupt China's inefficient hospital system with an ambitious ten year plan to facilitate nearly every interaction between patient and hospital, from appointment booking to payment to medicine delivery.

Earlier this month a medical center in Guangzhou adopted the payment service Future Hospital, which could reduce the patient process from five hours at peak demand, to only one. Future Hospital is a product of online payment company Alipay, which is part of the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, and it plans to “use Alipay's payment, user data, and big data capabilities to build a comprehensive mobile medical care and health management platform.”

Yang Xiufeng, director in charge of information at Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Center, told China Daily that 580 people tried booking through Future Hospital on its inaugural day.

TechNode reports:

After phase one, there is an even bigger plan that allows Alipay to take its presence in the whole healthcare system to a different level. Zhang Jiangang, an exec at Alifinance, mentioned that in the next 5-10 years, in order to implement phase two of the said plan, Alipay will establish a comprehensive online platform to allow virtually mobile prescription, medicine delivery, hospital transfer, medical care insurance reimbursement, commercial insurance as well as damage claims, as part of the improvement of healthcare reform in China.

In phase three, Alipay will further utilize its database and cloud computing capability to work with wearable technology manufacturers, medical care institutions and even government agencies to construct a resource backed healthcare management platform. “This is a long term plan to realize the shift from cure to prevention.” Zhang Jiangang said.

Alibaba has already tried to disrupt China's broken medical system, where getting an appointment at a well-regarded hospital can take eight hours. Last year, Alibaba-owned Taobao, an online shopping site, launched a free hospital appointment-booking system for 600 hospitals in 18 provinces. The service in Beijing, however, was forced offline by the Beijing Health Bureau because of concerns about protecting patient data.

When I covered the site's shutdown for techPresident last year, I emphasized the fact that the service was in competition with an official online reservation service run by the Beijing Health Department, which might have motivated the Department to shut down the Taobao service. Sina Weibo users had written comments along those lines as well. One user had complained: "All the things that benefit ordinary citizens are disputed, while all the things that benefit the government are adopted. This is fundamentally how it is."

In response to the ban, Taobao insisted that the service was free and built with the “well-being of the consumers in mind.”

The long term plan for Future Hospital, as outlined by TechNode, appears more comprehensive and therefore invasive than Taobao's appointment-booking site, and yet the concern for the well-being of consumers and the protection of their privacy is missing, both from the declarations made by Alipay and the media coverage of the launch. It is not clear how exactly Alipay will profit from this service, and there is no word, that I could find, on how sensitive medical data will be protected once Alipay begins to wield their “big data processing and analytical capabilities.”

Nor is there any sign of the level of support or tolerance the Chinese authorities (local or national) will allow Alipay as they interfere in—and, presumably, profit from—public health matters.

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