To combat overcrowded waiting rooms and long queues of people seeking medical attention, e-payments provider Alipay and several China hospitals are cooperating on systems that allow patients to book doctors’ appointments, make payments and receive diagnostic results using mobile phones.
“Currently, it’s very troublesome to visit the hospital,” said Liu Limin, deputy director of Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital, at a press conference today announcing a partnership between his hospital and Alipay. “Users have to come to the hospital at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to get a queue number.
“But with this Alipay tie-up, hospital visits will no longer be troublesome because visitors can make appointments at home using their phones,” Liu said.
The agreement between Alipay and Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital, located in Hangzhou, is the fifth of its kind since Alipay launched its “Hospital of the Future” program in May. The program allows consumers to link their Alipay accounts with a participating medical center's booking and payment systems through the Alipay Wallet mobile application.
In this way, users can book doctors’ appointments on their phone by selecting a doctor and appointment time instead of waiting in line for available physicians. Users can also pay their bills and receive test results on their phone.
Four other hospitals are already participating in the program: Guangzhou Women and Children's Hospital; First Affiliated Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University; Second Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University; and Nanchang 334 Hospital.
Alipay is a spin-off of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which has made healthcare one of its key investment areas, believing that by digitizing China’s healthcare industry, consumers will enjoy better service and hospitals will operate more efficiently.
In the future, the Alipay program could be expanded to integrate users' medical records with hospital databases to enable real-time consultation with healthcare practitioners over the phone, said Wang Lijuan, general manager of online-to-offline business for Small and Micro Financial Services Group, Alipay’s parent company. The hospital payment process will be streamlined over the next 18 months to link insurance carriers with hospital databases so consumers are billed appropriately, Wang added.
In July, Alibaba Group launched a scannable code technology, integrated into popular shopping and e-payment apps Mobile Taobao and Alipay Wallet, to allow consumers to scan barcodes on drug boxes to get information on a medication’s authenticity, origins, usage, ingredients and contraindications.
Alipay officials said they are currently working with 50 hospitals on digital technologies.
Global consultancy McKinsey estimates that China’s healthcare sector will grow to $1 trillion by 2020, about triple the size of the industry in 2011. The consulting firm is bullish on China’s healthcare sector due to rapid urbanization, a rise in chronic illnesses throughout China and greater insurance coverage.
Earlier this year, China’s law-making body issued a statement outlining its plan for healthcare reform, which included easing restrictions on foreign investment and promoting the use of information technology.