Online medical services thrive in China amid COVID-19

By Liu Shaohua, People’s Daily Overseas Edition
Telemedicine, something that has long existed in China before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, witnessed robust growth amid COVID-19 as people quarantined themselves at home and hospitals reduced clinical reception.
“How can the novel coronavirus pneumonia patients be treated?” “How can they be discharged?” Those are netizens’ questions raised to Wang Tao, chief physician of the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine under Union Hospital affiliated to Tongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, on an online medical platform.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the medical platform joined hands with People’s Daily app and Xuexi Qiangguo app , and invited around 210,000 doctors to offer free online medical services.
According to statistics, the daily visits of since the outbreak of COVID-19 stood around 200,000, jumping tenfold, which is impossible for any brick-and-mortar hospital except Internet ones – as they can mobilize national resources of doctors.
From Jan. 22 to Feb. 25, received 4.26 million users, 20 percent of whom were on the platform for consultation of pneumonia and relevant sicknesses. There were approximately 20,000 doctors online on a daily basis receiving the patients.
Haodf is not the only one that offers online medical services. On Jan. 23, an early phase of COVID-19, a real-time aiding platform for novel coronavirus pneumonia was launched by WeDoctor, which provides online access to licensed doctors. The platform offered free online diagnosis, psychological counseling, online clinic, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) counseling and remote consultation. As of 10:00 pm on March 13, the platform was visited 125 million times, and 48,581 doctors received patients, offering services to 1.61 million people.
Besides, WeDoctor has also opened a special platform for Wuhan that offered online subsequent visits, insurance-coverage prescription and medicine delivery services to over 50,000 people in the city in around a dozen days.
As a matter of fact, over 10 online medical platforms including Alibaba Health, Chunyu Yisheng, Tencent Doctorwork and Ping An Good Doctor, have witnessed rapid growth of visits during COVID-19, playing their roles and contributing to the anti-epidemic efforts. Their services encouraged people in home quarantine to be optimistic about the situation.
Statistics from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Office (MIIT) indicate that currently there are 191 public medical institutions and nearly 100 online hospitals offering free services to relieve the pressure on the medical system during the pandemic. The ministry introduced that China is steadfastly promoting the application of information technologies in online diagnosis and digital health, and enhancing the deployment of 5G infrastructure in the medical system, so as to make hospitals informationized, make medical devices smart and make online platforms more convenient.
“Online consultation is the first step toward ‘digital health,’” said Li Dewen, deputy director of the MIIT’s information center. He believes the effective human-machine interaction is able to relieve the pressure of hospitals in preliminary diagnosis, help users make reasonable plans, and to some extent lower the risk of cross-infection.
Online medical platforms also stepped out to overseas users during the pandemic, and started offering medical services based on “Internet+.”
At the midnight of March 16, WeDoctor’s international platform received a request for assistance from a doctor named Luca Varcasia from the Italian city of Sassari, who explained the severe situation in the city and the challenges met by his colleagues.
To help the Italian doctor, WeDoctor invited a chief physician named Zhao Lei with Wuhan Union Hospital, who has gained rich clinical experiences on the frontline of COVID-19 since the epidemic firstly started, to offer online training courses.
Two days later, Zhao had a video talk with Varcasia and the latter’s colleagues, guiding them how to effectively prevent and control the disease and sharing China’s experiences in fighting the pandemic and treating the patients.
Varcasia hailed the video conference, saying the information shared by Zhao and WeDoctor was “gold” to him and his colleagues.
The video conference not only helped Italian and Chinese medical staff, but also users from 9 countries including the Netherlands and India who watched the livestream.

Chinese doctors offer free online consultation for overseas Chinese through WeDoctor in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang province, March 17. Photo by Long Wei, People’s Daily Online

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