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Medical insurance coverage gives China's online healthcare a boost

Updated: Mar 05,2020 10:20 AM    CGTN

Online healthcare has long been seen as a promising sector in China, and the government has decided to give this a boost amid its fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak. Internet-based medical services and subsequent treatments will be covered, according to the new guidelines for the country's medical insurance system issued by the national health authorities at the end of February.

Every day from his office in Wuhan, Professor Cao Wei provides consultations online through WeDoctor. "Judging by your symptoms, you are in stable condition. All you need is to take the same dosage of medicine as you did. In case anything's up, keep in touch with me online," is a typical response he might send. The online platform has been recently included in the city's medical insurance system.

Since the start of the outbreak, hundreds of millions of Chinese stuck at home due to quarantine measures are turning to online consultations. Monthly consultations on JD Health, run by the largest retailer in China, have grown tenfold since the outbreak, to 2 million. Registered users of Dingxiang Doctor, a medical-services app, have also more than doubled. 

Cao said it's easier to find specialists online now and the shift helps reduce the risk of infection. "The patients can send detailed information of their medical records online. We will diagnose the illness based on previous checkups and medical history, and then propose treatment plans. It saves the patients trouble lining up at hospitals, which could lead to cross-infections."

In East China's Shandong province, patients of more than 30 chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure, can pay online first and receive reimbursements under the local health insurance system.

Li Bingke paid a return visit online and his drugs have been delivered to his door. He's happy with the new arrangement. "Now I can ask the doctor to prescribe my medication online, and pay partially for the costs. The local health insurance department will settle the bills with the hospital themselves," he said.

Experts believe that access to health insurance system through online payments will certainly give China's online healthcare another push.