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China leads healthcare digitization, says expert

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-08 07:13

Digitizing healthcare, coupled with advances in artificial intelligence, presents huge opportunities to improve efficiency, and China is integrating the new technologies into its health system faster than any other country, a health economics expert says.

China is following a new growth path for delivering healthcare by adopting such technologies, which can lead to "much faster growth and productivity" and can be "massively beneficial", said Sean Sylvia, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sylvia's recent work has focused on the use of information technology to expand access to quality healthcare in China. He talked about his research at a recent webinar hosted by the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

Digitization means collecting health data from various sources and putting the data online, and digitization in healthcare means the ability to use great amounts of data in different ways, Sylvia said. "Digitization in healthcare presents really important opportunities to improve the productivity of China's health system and address inefficiencies and expand access to healthcare."

Telemedicine as example

Telemedicine is an example, he said. China has several advantages in developing digitization in healthcare and has incentives to follow this path. A prominent example of these advantages is mobile money, such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, he said, but in the US people rarely use mobile money.

In China, artificial intelligence, big data and the sharing economy enable people to get health information, and at the administration level big data is being used to guide public health policies and inform management decisions, Sylvia said.

China has strong incentives to follow that newer path because of the large population and disease burden, and also because of the low marginal cost brought by digital health technologies, he said.

"There may be large costs of developing these technologies initially, but using those at scale is very cheap. So these digital technologies are inherently low marginal costs.

"The high-income countries may have an advantage in developing frontier technologies, but they're constrained in their use of those technologies in the existing systems."

There are huge advantages in integrating digital technologies into health systems, for instance, using telehealth to expand access and reduce overcrowding particularly in remote areas, using artificial intelligence to guide medical and management decisions to address some inefficiencies, and using data to drive public health decisions, automation, according to Sylvia's research.


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