• Healthcare’s disruption is wide open not only from adjacent sectors such as life sciences, but also from technology and retail businesses who have honed their customer centric platforms and streamlined supply chains.

  • The pandemic has rapidly accelerated the adoption of digital health and opened the minds of patients, clinicians and administrators to the ‘digital front door’ to online consults, virtual collaboration, and online pharmacy.

  • The key to long-term success in virtual healthcare is establishing patient trust for uptake; this can be achieved via respected clinicians, association with established institutions and personalized, efficient patient experiences.

No one could have predicted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare. It locked down the economy and society, making in-person interactions – from seeing your doctor to picking up medicines at the local pharmacy – a public health impracticality.

Instantly, every player in the ecosystem had to adjust to going online. And China’s JD Health has been at the center of this digital health revolution. But this story begins long before COVID-19. Its parent company – The JD Group – that is best known for being one of China’s premier e-commerce platforms, selling goods from books to household goods to high technology products, decided back in 2014 to make its foray into healthcare.

With high mobile engagement in China and the growing utilization of healthcare services, JD Group had the foresight to set up its JD Health vertical, initially as a supplier of medicines and healthcare products leveraging its great customer online experience and vast logistics and fulfillment network that reaches into every corner of China. It was now possible to have your medicines show up at your door as fast as your next-day shopping order.

But over time, the business has expanded into a ‘one stop online shop’ to encompass a wide range of healthcare solutions, including online family doctors to specialist hospital consultations, personalized medical guidance, dentistry, as well as software infrastructure solutions for clinics, hospitals and health systems to better collaborate.

When the pandemic hit, JD Health had its true time to shine and grow -- helping to take the strain off traditional healthcare providers, to offer a host of services at a low cost or free of charge, like online COVID-19 test and vaccination bookings, prevention advice, consultations, psychological counseling and drug delivery. The company also opened up its platform capabilities to governments, hospitals and enterprises to help them resume work and production. At the peak of the pandemic, JD carried out more than 10 million free online medical consultations, at one point performing more than 10,000 consultations per hour.

Entering the ‘Internet + medical health’ era

If there’s one thing that technological disruption has taught us, it’s that no sector is immune. And healthcare is, arguably, riper for disruption than many other industries, with long-standing practices, and aging physical and technological infrastructure that are struggling to adapt to changing times.

JD Health positions itself as a ‘health management platform with supply chain as the core’, with a customer-focused ethos aiming to cover the entire patient life cycle, by leveraging data to better personalize health guidance, offering a breadth of health and wellness products both from western and traditional Chinese medicine. 

One key step has been to ‘recruit’ doctors who can be accessed via the platform, giving them an opportunity to build their professional skills and reputation, while widening the network of patients that can get access to them. Patients logging onto JD Health can now reach more than 110,000 doctors, with the pandemic seeing a massive increase in usage: the average number of daily online consultations in 2020 soared by more than six times to 100,000.

As you’d expect for an e-commerce specialist with world-leading supply chain expertise and capabilities, healthcare products have proven to be an especially effective area of the business to lead with. Sub-brand JD Pharmacy is at the forefront of retail with a range spanning medicine, medical devices, non-prescription drugs and other health-related goods. Users can access a staggering 20 million different products from more than 12,000 suppliers, supported by over 300 fulfillment warehouses serving 300-plus cities spanning the length and breadth of China.

JD Health proceeded further by being one of the first companies in China to be issued a formal internet hospital license, steadily increasing its breadth of services, expanding into specialized diseases such as cardiovascular, ENT (ear, nose and throat), respiratory and many others. It’s also gaining a reputation for excellence by association and access to some of the nation’s top medical experts from clinical practice and academia, as well as cooperation with leading hospitals, helping to integrate the online and physical ‘offline’ patient experience. This access to high-quality, reputable names have helped counteract the perception that online services are of lesser quality.

In August 2020, JD Health launched its family doctor service which offers both online and face-to-face services, 24/7, as well as referrals to 2,700 hospitals for appointments, follow-ups and health plans. By providing online and offline services, JD has built a health ecosystem that in the future can potentially build a ‘perfect closed loop’ of health management services, with the data that can help follow the patient and improve the quality and experience of care.

Currently in China, the majority of outpatient and online consultations are not eligible for reimbursement under national social medical insurance schemes, if this situation changes in reimbursement policies for digital consultations in the future, then JD Health and other companies can expect a major surge in online consultations that should further ingrain digital health into everyday life in China.

Digitalizing healthcare

The future of healthcare is being driven by data: sharing, analyzing and deriving insights to enhance research, treatment and prevention. JD Health is on the frontline of this shift, opening up its resources to help build an integrated online healthcare platform for governments, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. Further leveraging its capabilities honed through JD Group and its retail experience, both patients and providers can benefit from its ability to apply AI and data science.

The company is working with a number of Chinese cities to digitalize their health systems and enhance medical services, providing infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS).

COVID-19 has been a terrible tragedy, but it’s also raised public awareness and adoption of health and hastened much-needed efficiencies from digital health. With the quality of experience, speed of delivery and access that they learned from their online retail experiences, people now think nothing of handling many of their medical needs online, from booking appointments, holding consultations, ordering medicines and engaging with preventive advice on diet and exercise. I believe that JD Health is a ‘welcome disruptor’, who is already helping improve the quality of life for people in China

Key takeaways

  • The growth of e-health is dependent upon behavioral change from all stakeholders. In China, there remains a preference for in-person consultations, but this is shifting, especially as e-commerce grows and as a new generation of ‘digitally native’ users begin to access care.

  • Regulations are an important part of an integrated healthcare system. The enablement of data sharing and interoperability, registration of clinicians for online consultations, and reimbursement models must all be aligned to help this market grow.

  • Leveraging ‘best in class’ from other sectors has helped JD Health realize much of its success thus far; systems built for high-quality customer interaction, efficient and speedy deliveries, and whole system management can be leveraged with some configuration to raise the overall experience of customers and patients.

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