Private sector player WeDoctor moves to unify GBA healthcare market

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Jeffrey Chen, Chief Strategy Officer of WeDoctor, takes a thoughtful moment to consider a unified GBA market while speaking to Julien de Salaberry, CEO of Galen Growth Asia at the Galen Growth Asia Investor and CEO Summit earlier this year.

Chinese healthcare innovator WeDoctor says it has created a healthcare platform focusing on the Greater Bay Area (GBA) to integrate healthcare, pharmaceutical, and medical insurance services in Hong Kong and its neighbouring cities.

The move indicates that at least one healthcare service provider is willing to make government rhetoric a reality by moving to build an online service to serve patients remotely and more efficiently. Patients and doctors will be matched on the platform to connect online.

70 million market united

By the end of January, the platform aims to create a 90-minute healthcare circle within the GBA. The region covers Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities in Guangdong, and is home to 70 million people.

The platform has linked up 79 hospitals and over 10,000 medical practitioners in the region. It has also established 32 internet medical bodies, dozens of specialist collaborative alliances, and 500 pharmacies and consultation centres.

Nine city service bases have been set up in the region. Via the Zhuhai base, the platform will match the relevant medical practitioners with patients from the 11 GBA cities to offer diagnosis and treatment, remote joint medical consultation and family health management online.

Mr Jeffery Chen, Chief Strategy Officer of WeDoctor, says that patients can make online appointments, get pre-clinic visit online consultation and facilitate follow-up online consultations. These will be done via a mobile application that will be running in the next few months.

The platform could help alleviate the overloaded public healthcare system in Hong Kong and benefit Hong Kong patients, Mr Chen believes.

“In Hong Kong, it could take up to a year for patients to get a CT scan done through the public hospital system, but this can be done much faster and for less in a Shenzhen hospital,” says Mr Jeffery Chen, Chief Strategy Officer of WeDoctor.

Hurdles to be solved

The plan sounds good on paper. However, to make the platform work in both Hong Kong and China, there needs to be sharing of patients’ medical records between hospitals and cross-border medical insurance coverage.

This can pose as a challenge as the healthcare systems in both places are different.

In China, hospital services are funded by a state-run health insurance scheme which does not cover Hong Kong. Meanwhile, public hospitals in Hong Kong charge residents a little while private healthcare is reimbursed by private insurance.

Currently, cross-border medical coverage is rarely available on the market. It remains to be seen if patients can get service in China and get the costs covered by their Hong Kong policies.

Another problem to note is the licence requirement for doctors to practice.

Dr Ho Chung-ping, vice-president of Hong Kong Medical Association, says Hong Kong doctors cannot practise in China without a licence from there.

Lukewarm response

Another medical expert Dr Donald Li Kwok-tung, president of the World Organisation of Family Doctors, says local doctors may not be willing to practise in the GBA. He cites the different medical system, language barrier and management style as hurdles.

Hong Kong patients may also not be interested in using mainland healthcare services due to trust issues.

In September, Mr Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the Elderly Commission, suggested establishing the Hong Kong healthcare model in the GBA.

“We need to reassure the people that the healthcare they receive in the GBA would be the one they have been using and trusting,” Mr Lam tells Harbour Times.

Despite the hurdles and concerns, WeDoctor’s healthcare platform could be a solution to Hong Kong’s strained public healthcare system. Currently, over 90 percent of inpatient services are provided by public hospitals, resulting in long waiting queues to get treatment.

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