China’s healthcare system is riddled with challenges. In public hospitals, where anything from cancer to colds is treated, patients often queue for hours before seeing a doctor. Some physicians handle 70 patients a day. While private institutions might have smaller caseloads, they have issues of their own.
“Private for [Chinese consumers] isn’t associated with good quality care because you have […] local private operators who have bad reputations,” explains Sebastien Gaudin, CEO and founder of The Care Voice, whose service offers reviews and ratings of private healthcare institutions.
“At the same time, you have international ones – the first ones who came [to China],” he says. “It’s very, very expensive.”
Over the past decade, China’s private healthcare industry has grown steadily and rapidly, thanks to policy reform and an influx of private capital. According to consulting firm Deloitte, the number of private hospitals in China doubled between 2008 and 2013, constituting almost half of the country’s hospitals in 2014. However, they only see 10 percent of the country’s patients, undershooting the Chinese government’s goal of 20 percent market share by a wide margin.
Sebastien believes that’s mainly due to high prices and a lack of transparency around quality of care. Some healthcare services have serious conflicts of interest with hospitals and doctors, and take consultation or referral fees, he says.
“They need each other to operate their service,” he says. “It’s just the business.”
Earlier this year, for example, scandal rocked China’s private healthcare industry when Wei Zexi, a 21-year old college student, died after undergoing an unproven cancer treatment advertised on Baidu. The hospital where the college student was treated turned out to be part of an opaque and corrupt network of private hospitals.
The Care Voice wants to offer a more independent service by working with insurance providers and corporations instead. Insurers and employers pay for yearly subscriptions to The Care Voice’s app, which reviews and rates various preventive care services at private hospitals and clinics. Reviews come from patients, who can leave comments and rate services via the app. Users that have been subscribed can also access other information about services, like their costs, depending on what kind of insurance they have.
A one-year subscription costs on average US$36 per user, though prices vary across different insurers and employers, says Sebastien.
“They can improve the productivity of their employees,” Sebastien explains, referring to companies that subscribe. “Because it’s more efficient to access care, people are quicker, are in good shape, [and] they can do preventive steps. And we lower costs also for insurance employers because of these elements.”
The startup also incorporates patient reviews from other healthcare platforms – such as WeDoctor (previously Guahao) – as well as insurance claims into their ranking system. In the future, The Care Voice plans to add more data points to its ranking system, such as university rankings and international accreditation.
China’s healthcare industry has attracted more and more tech companies over the past few years. WeDoctor, which raised a US$394 million round of funding last year, helps patients pick a number before they get to the hospital to save them the hassle of physically queuing.
There’s also Apricot Forest, which offers various services to help doctors work more efficiently. For example, its MedChart app is an “Evernote for physicians.” There are also biotech companies joining the mix, such as genetic testing and precision medicine startups.
For now, The Care Voice will focus on more preventive health services because super specialized clinics, such as those that focus on oncology, aren’t mainstream yet, says Sebastien. The startup is also targeting the premium segment of patients, such as those who earn over US$2,900 a month. Most fall between the ages of 25 and 45.
“If you go for the upper-tier consumer groups, they are the ones who are more used to a great experience,” he explains. “Maybe they have traveled abroad, maybe they have been exposed to international healthcare. They are more responsive to the idea of [getting help] to find out something better.” In addition, given that private services tend to be costlier than their public equivalents, The Care Voice’s service might not be appropriate for lower income patients either.
Currently, the startup says it has 70,000 registered members in Shanghai, and has partnered with four insurers and employers. Now, The Care Voice is raising a US$3 million series A, which will be used to expand the startup’s service to Beijing and Guangzhou.
Converted from Chinese yuan. Rate: US$1 = RMB 6.88.
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