How global tech can drive local healthcare innovation in China

healthccare

(Luis Melendez, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Andy Ho, CEO, Philips Greater China


With an ageing population rapidly increasing the rate of disease, China’s healthcare system is ripe for innovation.

From established corporations to fledgling startups, all recognize the potential for digital technologies, such as telehealth and artificial intelligence, to alleviate China’s overstretched healthcare professionals and help provide better care.

In fact, the 2019 Future Health Index from Philips, which surveyed healthcare professionals in 15 countries around the world, shows that China is leading the way in adoption of digital health technology.

However, global health technology innovators looking to China face barriers – including a medical and digital infrastructure that is vastly different from other countries, unique regulatory demands, and a lack of affordability of existing solutions for more widespread use in rural or impoverished regions.

How to overcome such barriers? To help make China’s healthcare system fit for the future, I believe that global health technology companies need to rethink the traditional model of importing medical products developed in western markets. Today, the key to successful innovation lies in having a deep understanding of market-specific needs and challenges, and the ability to forge local partnerships – while also keeping an eye on best practices in other healthcare systems. In other words, by combining a local and a global mindset.

Healthcare services in China are spread unevenly

One problematic aspect of China’s healthcare system that calls for locally relevant innovation is the uneven distribution of resources across the country.

Major cities in China offer access to top-tier hospitals, but many other cities and rural areas do not. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of primary care facilities. China has one general practitioner for every 6,666 people, compared to an international standard of one for every 1,500-2,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.

This causes people to flock to hospitals, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles, only to find themselves queuing up in increasingly long lines. Many hospital specialists are overworked, sometimes seeing as many as 200 patients a day.

Clearly, from the perspective of a global health technology provider, what’s needed here is an approach that transcends the traditional model of importing technological innovations and fitting them into the existing local healthcare system.

As Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, pointed out when he introduced the notion of “leadership 4.0” in 2016, innovation today needs to look at systems, not merely technologies. I couldn’t agree more.

Equipping China’s top-tier hospitals with the latest medical equipment can certainly help to further improve care in those hospitals. But to increase access to care across the country, new types of solutions are needed. Technological innovation needs to go hand-in-hand with locally relevant business models that transform the current system and improve care for all.

Improving access and affordability of care

What does this look like in practice? To serve the unmet needs of patients in China’s remote and less affluent regions, we need to create new ways to make medical expertise more widely available. One way of doing this is by connecting top-tier hospitals to smaller hospitals and primary care facilities that are closer to patients. This allows them to share resources and expertise in order to provide quality care at lower cost across the nation.

Take lung cancer as an example – the leading cause of cancer death in China. According to the China Cancer Foundation, nearly 70% of lung cancer patients in China are diagnosed and treated in a late stage, when their five-year survival rate is less than 5%. Patients would benefit from earlier screening using medical images such as CT scans. However, many of China’s healthcare facilities outside the wealthiest cities do not have the necessary financial resources, staff, or technology to provide such radiology services.

In 2018, Philips struck a partnership with Digital Health China, the largest provider of cloud-based healthcare services in China, to jointly launch a tele-radiology platform. The platform allows radiological images and associated patient information to be remotely viewed and analysed by clinical experts anywhere in the country, so that patients can receive treatment via their local healthcare facility, wherever they are. Unlike traditional business models, which require larger investments from hospitals upfront, a pay-per-use arrangement makes the platform affordable even for smaller hospitals.

This is just one of many examples that demonstrate how a combination of technology, new business models, and local partnerships can fuel innovation tailored to local needs.

Listening to the voice of the patient is equally important. Patients in China may have different needs and expectations than those in other countries. Interestingly, the Chinese population also seems poised to further embrace telehealth. According to the 2019 Future Health Index, people in China are among the most likely to say that, if given the choice, they would prefer a consultation with their doctor remotely via a digital channel for non-urgent care.

While a sensitivity to local needs is essential, there are also learnings to be drawn from other countries when it comes to telehealth. There is where a global outlook provides a useful perspective. Importantly, we know from telehealth programmes in other countries that their success ultimately depends on payers receiving reimbursement. In this light, it is encouraging to see that in provinces such as Guizhou, certain telemedicine services are now reimbursable under the Chinese social insurance program.

Organizing innovation for local impact

As I can testify from my experience as Market Leader for Philips Greater China, developing locally relevant solutions requires more than an understanding of China’s healthcare system and the local needs of caregivers and patients. It also demands an entirely different way of organizing innovation.

When health technology innovation was focused on delivering improved hardware such as higher-resolution CT scanners, it used to be centrally led. Innovations were rolled out to markets in a one-size-fits-all manner that relied on a multi-tiered network of local distributors.

Today, as the example of tele-radiology shows, innovation involves an interplay of medical systems, software, and services, often delivered via new business models. This calls for much closer collaboration; not only with healthcare providers and specialized partners, but also with government organizations, industry associations, private insurers, and other stakeholders.

That’s why local innovation facilities have become essential to the way global health technology companies operate. These facilities integrate traditional R&D capabilities with knowledge of local market dynamics, health economics, and business model innovation. They tap into local as well as global resources, with the aim of delivering innovations that are relevant to Chinese healthcare providers and patients.

Navigating China’s regulatory waters

Another crucial capability to add to this collaborative mix is knowledge of local regulations. Navigating regulatory waters in China can be challenging. For example, one study looked at innovative technologies cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2010 and 2014, and found that only 38% of them had been approved and brought into China by mid-2015 – with regulation being one of the main hurdles.

For technologies that are still in a nascent stage in healthcare, such as artificial intelligence, the situation is even more complex because regulations need further development. This is where I see an opportunity for health technology providers to intensify collaboration with local regulatory bodies. Together, we can create the conditions for safe and responsible innovation across the industry.

Local learnings, global relevance

Ultimately, I believe global actors can drive local innovation in healthcare if we combine an appreciation of local market realities with a broader global mindset.

Many of today’s challenges in healthcare are not unique to China or any one country, despite the different ways their healthcare systems are organized. Other regions around the world face similar challenges of providing care to growing and ageing populations across dispersed areas. We can all learn from each other.

With China already leading the way in adoption of digital health technology such as telehealth, it could inspire other countries to follow suit – using local learnings to improve healthcare worldwide.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Smart cities must pay more attention to the people who live in them

The EU seals CETA but plans to re-baptise TTIP after missing the 2016 deadline

Redefining the business of business

Science leads the response to COVID-19. These 25 scientists are tackling the other global challenges

European Agenda on Migration four years on: Marked progress needs consolidating in face of volatile situation

Four million Syrian children have only known war since birth: UNICEF

Commission welcomes political agreement on InvestEU

This simple solution might help with one of the biggest challenges of working from home

MEPs back update of rail passenger rights across EU

EU summit: Are the London Tories planning an exit from the EU?

UN Middle East Coordinator strongly condemns ‘arrests and violence’ by Hamas security forces during Gaza protests

These countries have the most doctors and nurses

‘Leaders who sanction hate speech’ encourage citizens to do likewise, UN communications chief tells Holocaust remembrance event

5 inventions that could transform the health of our ocean

This electric plane has flown successfully for 30 minutes – is this the future of flying?

End ‘shame, isolation and segregation’ of fistula sufferers, urges UN reproductive health chief

The Italian ‘no’ and France’s Fillon to reshape Europe; Paris moves closer to Berlin

From fishing village to futuristic metropolis: Dubai’s remarkable transformation

The EU and Japan trade deal celebrates second anniversary by further strengthening ties

On flight to sustainable development, ‘leave no country behind’, urges aviation agency

Commission launches debate on more efficient decision-making in EU social policy

Banks worth $47 trillion adopt new UN-backed climate, sustainability principles

UN Human Rights chief urges Venezuela to halt grave rights violations

‘Complacency’ a factor in stagnating global vaccination rates, warn UN health chiefs

To prevent coronavirus don’t touch your face – but how can you avoid it?

World’s human rights watchdog spotlights Afghanistan, Yemen and 12 others: Here’s the scoop

How Germany strives to mold ECB’s monetary policy to her interests

Parliament commemorates the victims of the Holocaust

European Commission Joint Research Centre opens world-class laboratories to researchers

70 years on, landmark UN human rights document as important as ever

Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast: A challenging road ahead

Mental Health: starting with myself

“An open China brings opportunities to Europe”, a Sting Exclusive by China’s Ambassador to EU

EU solidarity in action: Commission proposes €86.7 million for the recent natural disasters in France and Greece

EU budget 2021-2027: Commission calls on leaders to set out a roadmap towards an autumn agreement

Hungary has made progress on greening its economy and now needs to raise its ambitions

‘Make healthy choices’ urges UN agency, to prevent and manage chronic diabetes

Parliament votes reform for better European Co2 market but critics want it sooner than later

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: migration tragedy in the Rio Grande, drugs report, Torture Victims Day

My experience living with depression and schizophrenia in Thailand

How to make trade single windows more efficient with blockchain

IWD 2021: The gender dimension must be included in the COVID-19 recovery plans

Nuclear testing has ‘disastrous consequences’ for people and planet, General Assembly told

State aid: Commission approves €400 million of public support for very high-speed networks in Spain

The West – the EU and the US – is writing off Turkey’s Erdogan

Trade barriers are slowing plastic-pollution action. Here’s how to fix it

4 myths about manufacturing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

EU Migrant Crisis: Italian Coast Guard Headquarters and Italian Navy to give host national opening addresses at Border Security 2016 in Rome

5 reasons why CEOs must care about safeguarding nature

Clean air is good for business

The AI doctor won’t see you now

Eurozone: A Sluggish economy offers no extra jobs

Resolving banks with depositors’ money?

We have a space debris problem. Here’s how to solve it

The European Union is strengthening its partnership with Senegal with €27.5 million

Central Mali: Top UN genocide prevention official sounds alarm over recent ethnically-targeted killings

Aung San Suu Kyi defends Myanmar from accusations of genocide, at top UN court

A Europe that delivers: EU citizens expect more EU level action in future

Why the world needs the youth revolution more than ever

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s