A new perspective on China's digital health care


As you become more familiar with China's digitally savvy consumers, you can go straight to them with your product launch. Deloitte combines the trends in digital healthcare with the possibilities of this second of four articles.

TraditionallyChina is considered to be characterized by relationships and supports a "face-to-face" culture in business. In the digital world, the country is now a leader, using new technologies ranging from mobile devices to innovative digital applications and tools.1 This has changed many marketplaces, certainly health care. The changes affect customers: Patients and physicians behave differently and spend a significant portion of their average 29 online hours per week on medically relevant activities (see Figure 1).

Managers of international biopharmaceutical companies and global manufacturers of biologic and chemical drugs need to get to know the behavior of physicians and patients in this new era. For teams that want to launch innovative medicines in China, investing in digital capacity is not enough. To get off to a good start, you must use the right methods to access the right physicians and patients, using and leveraging a deep understanding of the rapidly changing digital ecosystem.

The connected patient and doctor

According to DXY Kantar's 2017 Social Media Trends Report (see Figure 1), patients in China spend about 29.3 hours online each week, with 26 percent of the time spent searching for medical information. Chinese patients, like their Western counterparts, are increasingly seeing the Internet as an important source of information for health. They rely on search engines and apps to get information about diseases, treatments, and medications.

Patients also participate more actively in their own treatment decisions rather than as passive recipients of information. 45% said they had applied for changes to their prescriptions at least once in the past, and 38% said that their applications were approved by doctors. (Doctors themselves estimate this number at only nine percent.)

Similar to patient behavior, physicians spend 29.2 hours a week online, with just over half (53 percent) spent on medical activities. Among the digital channels is the Chinese app WeChat2 plays a major role: 95 percent of doctors use it, and 97 percent of those users have subscribed to medical content.

With easy access via smartphones and other devices, digital channels have become the primary way physicians use professional information. In 2017, 63% of physicians' information came from digital platforms, compared to the 37% received from sales staff and at conferences (see Figure 1). In the previous year, there were still 49 percent and 51 percent. Some doctors also practice online: 21 percent say they do it for a variety of reasons; By reputation, extra income or finding potential patients.

Among the many digital trends that shape global markets, Deloitte has identified four that will significantly change the healthcare system in China in the short-term (see Figure 2), as described below. They should also have an influence on how biopharmaceutical companies plan a product launch (see section Knowledge is Power: Transforming Trends into Benefits).


As the above data shows, Chinese patients (and other healthcare consumers) are better informed about healthcare choices and are therefore more committed to them. Over the past decade, many consumer digital platforms have emerged, including digital health websites, interactive applications and platforms such as virtual patient communities. These new tools not only change the way patients collect and use information, they also provide industry with new ways to influence patient behavior and continuously support them outside the traditional nursing environment.

Key healthcare trends in the new digital ecosystem

In November 2017, for example, a large pharmaceutical company Ali Health joined3– a health platform of the Alibaba Group – to introduce the Comfort at the Fingertips app. Users can use patient management programs for chronic diseases. You can also find drug safety information by scanning the barcode on a medicine package.


The trend for Chinese doctors to receive more professional information digitally will continue. For one reason, the pharmaceutical industry uses digital tools to improve the efficiency of sales and marketing (especially from a cost point of view). On the other hand, regulators have taken control of sales staff and made digital channels a more viable means of communication.

Biopharmaceutical and technology companies are learning to involve physicians, either through internal platforms, such as a large diabetes platform built by a leading company in the renewal of diabetes and obesity therapy. or through partnerships with technology companies that have already set up digital health platforms like Chunyu Doctor. Virtual platforms are useful for providing high quality medical education and training. In addition, virtual conferences and live broadcasts have been widely used to replace traditional campaigns and events.


Traditionally, Chinese health resources have been disproportionately concentrated in the large hospitals of large cities and large cities.4 and they do not keep up with demand. Digital technology could contribute to the relief. Patients and healthcare providers in China are exploring alternative, more efficient care models, such as virtual medical advice. As in many Western markets, such digital health tools have been used to connect patients and physicians at substantially lower cost and to unlock the capacity of the healthcare system. The biopharmaceutical industry has also started to develop this space. A major pharmaceutical company and Ali Health have partnered to provide vaccine counseling online to optimize patient support and boost the adoption of innovative medicines in China.5

From a logistical point of view, digital apps could offer biopharmaceutical companies a new market launch model for alternative forms of delivery. These apps include direct pharmacies and so-called O2O pharmacies (online-offline), through which online information and services enhance the customer experience. However, changing regulations have led to some uncertainty in this area in order to support or sometimes discourage online pharmacies. Traditional distributors are currently actively exploring the possibilities of e-commerce.6 For example, the government's new drug policy may allow biopharmaceutical companies to attract third-party logistics companies to supply medicines. Logistics companies can therefore seize the opportunity to expand the pharmaceutical logistics system and connect with the pharmaceutical e-commerce supply chain to expand the logistics market for third-party suppliers.


China is increasing its investments in big data and advanced analytics. In 2017, reported funding for artificial intelligence startups increased to $ 7.06 billion, compared to $ 5.62 billion for comparable US companies, according to CB Insights. 7In the healthcare industry, the industry has experienced an increase in the number of investments and newcomers with the same dynamic.

Key players, including technology companies, have begun collaborating with hospitals to explore the potential of Big Data in healthcare.8th Ali Health has begun to work with a large multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company to deliver new smart healthcare services based on digital health data and AI.9 In this rapidly changing environment, it is reasonable to foresee that a new care model will emerge, supported by AI, analytics, and new payment models enabled by Big Data.

Knowledge is power: making trends an advantage

Of course, biopharmaceutical companies should continue to invest in digital skills and use the above trends to support the introduction of excellence. But can your innovative digital products reach their full potential? Below we recommend measures to mitigate four of the most common obstacles.

1. Form a longer-term vision / value proposition

Biopharmaceutical companies often have no clear idea of ​​the role of digital technology in a launcher program. Sometimes they lack an overarching digital strategy. From an internal point of view, there are often different views within a start-up team. Some members may believe in a fundamental shift towards a medical information-based business model using multichannel marketing. Others tend to rely on the traditional sales-based business model, with digital tools serving as marketing support. Externally, brand partnerships in partnerships often select digital partners based on current technology or channel needs without having a holistic, long-term vision for both partners.

To use digital technology effectively, clarify your long-term vision and the role of digital technology early, within a brand or beyond, such as B. in the entire therapeutic area or at the organizational level.


In times of explosive information, it is particularly important to attract the time and attention of customers (doctors and patients): an increasingly competitive business. To effectively launch innovative medical products, you should effectively engage customers with all available channels. Your marketing team must be able to answer these key questions:

  • What are the channel preferences of our customers?
  • Have we evaluated the channels that should be used and which should we prioritize now?
  • With which external partners are we ready to work?


There is often a lack of cross-functional collaboration, especially in digital health. Often, there is no tracking or feedback after a digital marketing team sends information to customers. Or digital channels are generating significant new data – such as large customers or the extent to which physicians prescribe online versus traditional prescriptions – but there is no analysis to make use of it.

To realize the full potential of digital tools, you need to connect with the digital team in the planning phase of a launch and create an internal system of collaboration. The integration of digital programs will help to achieve the best results and to transform the patient's pathways. For example, they can build better data and service relationships to improve local health economics outcomes. You can also gather data efficiently for results-based contracting and gain a deeper understanding of the use of therapies.


Some biopharmaceutical and medical device companies have not established the optimal internal structure to support systematic digital processes, such as: For example, a robust digital infrastructure, a centralized data registration and processing platform, or a dedicated digital project team. Businesses often respond to the fast-moving market by setting up ad-hoc digital teams with limited resources and unclear processes and governance. Digital processes are sometimes considered unprioritized or merely seen as a showcase for a "trendy way" of marketing. In these cases, there are neither the right talents nor the right structures to support a launch or any other commercial activity. Again, companies should ask themselves crucial questions:

  • Do we have a defined model for digital processes and governance?
  • Are we ready to hire new talent?
  • What internal structure will we set up to drive the success of our introduction?
  • How should we design frameworks and guidelines to ensure that different teams are aligned?


A deep understanding of the rapidly changing digital ecosystem is becoming increasingly important for biopharmaceutical companies planning to launch in China. It is also important to understand the trends and needs of physicians and patients in this environment in order to best connect them to the right content, channels and methods.10 Identifying areas where your strategy requires work should guide your start-up team to a structured, systematic and pragmatic approach that facilitates the development of a multi-channel marketing program. By taking full advantage of all the digital possibilities available, your product may have the benefit it needs to reduce noise.

Discover more insights into the launch of innovative biopharmaceuticals in China with three more articles in this series: market access and reimbursement, regulations and the changing health environment.