China’s Healthcare Revolution: WeDoctor

Given China's rising health care costs and inequities, this healthcare app is attempting to level the playing field by changing the very nature of personal care.

WeDoctor, formally We Doctor Holdings Limited, is a mobile application aspiring to make healthcare more approachable and accessible for the average individual. This Hangzhou-based company has been recognized for introducing “China’s first internet-based hospital,” and its platform has been used by over 2,700 hospitals in mainland China and has 27 million monthly active users since its founding in 2010. Valued at $5.5 billion in 2018, WeDoctor’s pre-IPO efforts raised $500 in investments. There is massive potential to scale this platform both domestically, with healthcare spending projected to reach $1 trillion by 2020, and internationally.

How WeDoctor Works

While WeDoctor has many capabilities, it  has four main businesses:

  1. WeDoctor HealthCare composes of two disease diagnoses system for Western (RealDoctor) and Chinese medicine (Huatuo AI Doctor), both of which are facilitated by artificial intelligence (AI). The latter offer is reflective of the continuing reliance on traditional medicine in Chinese society. One of its more notable capability is detecting cervical cancer.
  2. WeDoctor Insurance offers varying insurance options for users based on gender and concerns (cancer insurance, leukemia insurance, children’s insurance) at different price points.
  3. WeDoctor Cloud allows its partnering hospitals, clinics, government, and businesses to use tools such as data processing, record management, AI diagnosis, pension management, and remote consultation.
  4. WeDoctor Pharma integrates its healthcare services to provide patients a “one-stop shop” to receive a virtual consultation and receive an electronic prescription that can be immediately filled.

Step 1. Selecting the service from the application interface. Reviewing medical records real time with doctors.
The we doctor interface allows users to select from a number of options and be able to access their health records real-time with a doctor.

Changing the Field

WeDoctor’s success can be attributed to how it addresses the traditional pain points related to healthcare: time, distance, and money. Its value also arises by helping doctors make earlier or more precise diagnosis, and by speeding up the overall experience. Collecting data real-time and cross-referencing a patient history with millions of other users can, for instance, predict a heart attack “with a high rate of precision,” says Dan Vahdat, chief executive of Medopad. WeDoctor can become especially valuable for rural populations who often experience increased difficulty reaching critical health services. In many ways, WeDoctor redefines the very notion of personal care that has been at the core of the patient-doctor relationship. As the platform continues to grow, its treasure trove of data proliferates and be valuable to many interest groups.

Step 3. Select an appointment slot form an available hospital.Patient interface.
Patients can select any available doctor from a partnering hospital for their consultation, have a video consultation, and immediately get a prescription.

Future Outlook

As it continues to expand, it will face stiff competition from Ping An Good Doctor, another mobile healthcare application considered the “first health-tech Unicorn” in China after the company raised $1.1 billion IPO; however, its shares dipped 11% on the second day of trading. Ping An Good Doctor expanded to Southeast Asia and created a joint venture with popular Singapore-based ride-hailing app Grab in November 2018. Another major competition will be from Google’s DeepMind Health, though the firm recently encountered legal troubles in 2017 when the UK’s Information Commission found that it had broke UK privacy law.

WeDoctor has found success in a country burdened by rising inequalities, where patients have to wait in line for hours just to get an appointment or buy a time off scalpers. The company also launched a $600 Echo-like home device, called WeDoctor Tong, that can link to user’s wearables and acts as a “doctors’ hotline.” Eyeing the international market, WeDoctor acquired a majority stake in the Australian fertility treatment company Genea to focus on its newest platform, BBlink. Given that inadequate and expensive medical treatment is not indigenous to China alone, is sky the limit for WeDoctor?


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Student comments on China’s Healthcare Revolution: WeDoctor

  1. This is fascinating. I can see behavioural change in people especially the younger generations choosing this over physical visits to the doctor in some cases. I agree that sky could be the limit if they execute well on the following:

    1. My first gut reaction to this post was are they taking measures to ensure patient data is secure. This is invaluable data for pharma companies and insurance firms too. Who will own this data?
    2. How will Chinese government react and how will this industry be regulated? Will this impede growth?

    Thank you for the post!

  2. This is incredible. This post makes me wonder what it would take for a product like this to launch and scale in the United States. If the major barrier is regulation, then I’d be hugely concerned about how our regulatory climate may impact our ability to launch and scale transformative services like this. It seems like a core blocker for launching this sort of app in the US or Western Europe is the privacy regulation (attn: the DeepMind reference).

    Also, I would be curious to see how the Echo-like product evolves. It seems like this would be a good use case for ML/AI for helping answer rudimentary problems.

  3. Great analysis of a promising company. Facing similar problems of health inequity and outrageous cost trends, other countries may find comparison between WeDoctor’s success and the traction (or lack thereof) of digital health in their nation instructive. One glaring difference in offerings on the WeDoctor side is the provision of condition-based insurance as your detail for leukemia specifically and cancer more generally. [I wonder how condition-based insurance gets around the issue of adverse selection?] This is very different from insurance in the US and EU, among other industrialized nations. The general adoption of technology in healthcare raises the data privacy concerns echoed above, but certainly has the power to unlock the potential of true population health analytics.

  4. Very interesting post! It is the first time I’ve heard of this app and it’s great to learn how it works. I like that you brought up the difficulty of getting an appointment to see doctors for people less wealthy. This is definitely true from what I have seen in China. I am curious do you think this app would capture more rural population or urban? My initial thought is that maybe urban population would be more interested in using this app as they are busier with work and have better access to internets. I agree with your point that this app allows rural population to have access to treatments but there is a doubt in my mind that whether they would be more open to this kind of innovative platform than the urban population. Just interested in your thoughts. Great post!

  5. Great analysis Hung, seems like WeDoctor is doing some really interesting things in Healthcare. Focusing on WeDoctor Healthcare in particular, I would be interested in learning if the goal of the AI diagnosis system is to supplement doctors vs to replace them. My guess is that it would be extremely difficult to replace doctors, since the AI system would be fully dependent on the data that is inputted and wouldn’t be as flexible as an actually doctor that is able to take in information and tailor it to the situation at hand. But, the results around cervical cancer seem really impressive and is a prove-point that we might one day live in a world in which machines are delivering care that surpasses human capability.

    Other companies are also focusing in on this space, for example IBM Watson Health has invested a great deal of capital into this arena. On the oncology side they have been working with hospitals around the US to diagnosis and recommend treatment plans for patients. I would be interesting to see if both companies could potentially partner together, in order to continue to drive innovation in Healthcare.

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