Smartphones help patients cut waiting times in China

PHOTO: Smartphones help patients cut waiting times in China

Like online shopping, patients can now book their appointment ahead of time and pay for the fees of physical examinations and medicines by smartphone.

A medical centre in Guangzhou adopted the new approach on Friday.

"The easy online payment is able to reduce the clinical time by 60 per cent," said Yang Xiufeng, director in charge of information at Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Center, the first in China to combine the online payment with the offline medical service.

During peak hours, it might take at least five hours for a patient to run through the whole process from registration to checkup to getting medicine. But with the easy access of paying fees via smartphone, the process can be shortened to around one hour, Yang said.

The new approach also will boost the medical centre's efficiency, he said, adding that on the first day, around 580 people tried the new method.

Alipay, a third-party online payment company under the Alibaba Group, initiated the cooperative effort, known as Future Hospital, with medical service providers.

After the pilot programme in Guangzhou, Alipay plans to extend its cooperation to additional major hospitals, especially in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, aiming to ease the difficulties in getting medical services.

"More than 10 major hospitals from the big four cities expressed their cooperation intention," said Zhao Lian-sheng, manager in charge of the medical service of Alipay.

Hospitals will need to meet two conditions: a high-performance information system and younger patients who are more likely to use the system.

Zhao expects that users in the Guangzhou medical centre for women and children will account for 30 per cent of all patients in three months, because the parents of sick children are in their 30s and 40s, a group that frequently shops online.

But Lin Wenbin, an analyst with IT consultancy Analysys International, said the new approach is not enough to reduce overcrowding at hospitals in major cities.

"The root of difficulties in getting medical services lies in the scarcity of medical resources, which cannot be solved by the marriage of online payment and offline medical service providers," he said.