Online Markets for Medical Advice in China

Photo source - WeDoctor

Collaborators: Junzhang Tian, Tang Weiming, Winnie Yip, Hao Xue, Karishma D’Souza, Yian Fang, Aiqin Wang, Dong Xu, Wenjie Gong

While previously limited to small scale programs, large-scale commercial telehealth consultation services have grown rapidly in recent years, particularly in middle income countries. Emergence of these “Direct-to-Consumer” (DTC) telehealth platforms has potential to fundamentally alter the market for primary care in a number of dimensions. Most directly, DTC telehealth expansion could represent a marked increase in competition due to the ability for providers to cheaply enter geographically disperse markets and to lower search costs facing patients. In this project, our goal is to document the state of the DTC telehealth market in China – the country experiencing the most rapid growth of for-profit DTC platforms. In addition to features of the platforms providing DTC telemedicine services, we conducted more than 500 unannounced visits from standardized patients (mystery shoppers) presenting nine different disease cases to measure the quality of primary care that these platforms currently provide.

We have 3 main findings so far:

  • The structure and platforms varies widely on a number of dimensions
  • These platforms on average provide hier quality care than facilities in rural areas
  • Quality is higher at platforms that also sell drugs and those with higher consultation fees
Sean Yuji Sylvia
Sean Yuji Sylvia
Assistant Professor of Health Economics

Health economist in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.