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Integrating online, offline resources

By Ma Si/Yang Jun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2016-04-25

As internet heavyweights scramble to expand the online healthcare sector, a tech company in southwestern Guizhou province is aiming to carve out a unique presence for itself in the fiercely competitive industry.

Unlike other internet companies that enter the sector as technology partners, Longmaster acquired a 66 percent stake in Guiyang Sixth People Hospital in 2015 for 155 million yuan ($24 million). Longmaster thus is the controlling stakeholder, not just a software provider to a hospital.

"Brick-and-mortar hospitals are the core assets of the entire medical industry. Without a hospital, it is impossible for us to be deeply engaged, let alone revolutionize the sector with technology and service-oriented minds," said Wang Wei, chairman of Guiyang Longmaster Information & Technology Co Ltd.

On the basis of the Guiyang Sixth People Hospital, the company launched the Guizhou Internet Hospital last year, which enables local patients to visit nearby drugstores or medical centers where they can be treated online by doctors through video calls.

It is different from other platforms where doctors can only offer online medical services in their free time, because these platforms have inked contracts with individual doctors rather than their hospitals. The company has arranged 15 doctors to run the Guizhou Internet Hospital on a full-time basis, he said .

Integrating online, offline resources

"I am a big believer in technology. But when it comes to the online healthcare services sector, the key is to effectively integrate the online and offline medical resources, rather than achieve technological breakthroughs."

Zhong Xiuyun, a doctor at the Guizhou Internet Hospital, said the number of daily patients has surged to an average 500 from less than 10 half a year ago as the company gradually set up more than 90 consultation sites at drugstores and other facilities within the province.

"By the end of this year, we will be able to offer more than 3,000 daily online diagnoses and the network of consultation sites will be expanded to more than 200 facilities," Wang said

Integrating online, offline resources

But the company's ambition is not limited to the Guizhou province. Similar to a project initiated by one of its rivals, haodf.com, Longmaster is planning to launch an online platform in May to link nationwide patients suffering from complicated and serious diseases with leading doctors from top-tier cities.

Eager to boost its ability to reach more patients, the company acquired 39.net, a leading health information and consultation website in China, for 650 million yuan. The website covers 160 million users, it said.

"Many patients travel to top-tier cities to look for experts while many renowned doctors are burdened with the pressure of dealing with minor illnesses," Wang said. "We want to help change that."

According to him, the company has so far recruited over 200 medical experts from across China for the online initiative.

"The service will be priced between 2,000 yuan and 3,000 yuan, depending on what services consumers want," he said.

According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, China's hospitals and clinics provided nearly 5.7 billion clinical treatments during the January-September period of last year, up 2.8 percent year-on-year.

Qin Zexi, an analyst at Beijing-based iResearch Consulting Group, said it is important to remain cautious about the role of the internet in handling complicated diseases.

"The online video diagnosis model has inherent risks because many patients can't accurately express their symptoms. In the case of complicated diseases, patients' inputs could be potentially misleading without on-site examinations."

Contact the writers at masi@chinadaily.com.cn and yangjun@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 04/25/2016 page21)

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