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China’s healthcare system and AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) aims to improve the challenges of China’s current healthcare system. The fragmentation of the Chinese healthcare system has led to hospitals being overcrowded due to an inadequate number of general practitioners, and the pressures from an increasingly aging population. Across the country, hospitals are adopting AI-assisted medical products and services to close the ostensible gap between the medical resources available and the health needs of the nation. Fortunately, China’s large middle class, strong government support, and advanced technological capabilities – mean the country has the potential to provide innovative solutions for the healthcare challenges it faces.

In this article by Pacific Prime China, we will explore the potential AI has in transforming China’s healthcare industry.

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China’s fragmented healthcare system

China’s healthcare system is fragmented and needs to be optimized to meet the needs of those in the present and the future. The country lacks a robust first line of defense also known as a primary health care system. General practitioners are the bees’ knees when it comes to differentiating patients that need immediate medical intervention and patients that can recover at home without burdening emergency departments. A rapidly-aging Chinese population further exacerbates the situation.

Aging population

China’s elderly population above the age of 65 is expected to increase from 166 million in 2018 to 250 million by 2030. As people age, physiological health becomes more fragile and individuals are more prone to accidents and developing certain age-related diseases. This will have a significant impact on the public health sector as this particular demographic will require specialist care, treatments, equipment, and a higher dependence on the younger generation. Not only will public hospitals be under increased pressure from overcrowding but they will be financially burdened to provide the specialist care needed. For affluent Chinese individuals and families, there is the option of securing private health insurance to gain access to private hospitals.

An inadequate number of medical practitioners

According to data from the World Health Organization and the Chinese government, there were only 1.82 general practitioners per 10,000 people in 2017. For a country that has the highest population in the world, these figures simply paint a worrying picture of China’s health system. China’s governmental and health officials need to focus on increasing the number of doctors or lessening its regulations on expanding private hospital networks. The solution could be to fully utilize AI in the medical field in response to this major problem.

An overview of artificial intelligence (AI) in the medical field

AI technology is expected to transform the medical sector and the health of the population in China. Already there have been some well-documented studies that show the true potential of AI. Some of the areas where AI has proved its usefulness are diagnosing common childhood diseases and outperforming junior doctors. It is estimated that research and development of this sophisticated yet yielding technology will contribute to an extensive market of 1 trillion yuan ($147 billion) during the next 20 years.

AI solutions in China’s healthcare landscape

The prospects of the utilization of AI in China’s healthcare are positive as the technology will open numerous new possibilities in the medical field. Giving diagnoses, facilitating consultations with specialists and carrying out medical tests in remote areas of rural China are some of the advantages of artificial intelligence in the use of medicinal services.

Artificial intelligence algorithms could yield invaluable prognostic information for numerous conditions and offer diagnostic information. Results derived from calculations on predictive variables, utilizing various raw-data configurations, and assigning contexting weightings could potentially resolve many of China’s health system challenges through the use of the below solutions.

Mobile device

The use of mobile phones and wearables over the years has proven to be effective for image recognition and mining personal health data for individuals

Precision medicine

Genomic data mining helps to produce blueprints of our genetic makeup which could potentially reveal inherited genes that can translate into health diseases. Knowing what genes are responsible for health diseases allows geneticists to possibly edit those genes before they make an impact on people’s lives.

Drug discovery

Virtual screening and lead optimization technology are playing major roles in our discovery for medicines of the future.

Medical robots

The global medical robots market was valued at $7.24 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2023. AI is excelling the development of this market as demand for using robots in minimally invasive surgeries, especially for orthopedic, laparoscopic and neurologic procedures continues to rise. Examples of robots include telepresence physicians for the remote examination of patients and surgical assistance robots that are remotely controlled to offer increased surgical accuracy.

AI applications in improving China’s public health service

How does AI help improve China’s medical services? In short, some prime applications include diagnostics, optimizing medical resources, screening, and diagnosis as shown below.

Diagnostics

AI will improve diagnostic accuracy and do it much more effectively than human capacity allows. Earlier in 2019, a study trained a deep-learning system on 101 million data points generated from the electronic records of 1.3 million patient visits to a medical center in Guangzhou. The researchers found that the AI system was able to equal or outperform two groups of junior physicians in accurately diagnosing a range of ailments, from asthma and pneumonia, sinusitis, and mouth-related diseases.

Saving and optimizing medical resources

Machine learning is projected to extend the reach of doctors in hospitals and provide access to low-cost universal access to qualified health care. AI will save time and effort for a range of routine medical work and will play a pivotal role in making image annotations, image fusions, and image-guided therapies to name a few.

Disease screening and prognosis prediction

Machine learning algorithms can learn to see patterns similar to the way doctors recognize them. However for this to be effective the algorithms need a lot of concrete examples in the form of data. Data is normally acquired from patient information in hospitals. AI can help prognose conditions and predict the development of diseases.

Proven uses include:

  • Detecting lung cancer from CT scans
  • Assessing cardiac health from an electrocardiogram
  • Classifying skin lesions from images of the skin
  • Identifying retinopathy from eye images

Challenges for China’s medical artificial intelligence development

There is no shortage of optimism about AI for the medical community in China. The country is already known as a strong leader in several medical artificial intelligence segments, contending with many other countries like the US. However, with all the technological advancements, there will be some primary problems in bringing artificial intelligence for the medical area in China as we will explore below.

Limited data sharing

For AI to become a prominent tool in supporting China’s healthcare system, the technology must process huge databases to develop its learning and increase its accuracy. Data must come from patients and users of the healthcare system. However, China’s policymakers in Beijing have made a huge leap forward in articulating a nationwide data protection scheme which may limit or even stall the developments of AI. Owing to the possibility of personal information being misused, it has become difficult to release patient information and data to develop this technology.

AI still requires human input and support

It is unlikely that AI will replace doctors and technological specialists outright. Instead, AI for the foreseeable future is guaranteed to highlight and detect dangerous patterns of diseases for the specialists to then make the overall decision for actions to take.

AI and health insurance in China

AI is applicable not only in the medical industry but also goes hand-in-hand with health insurance. The technology is destined to drive savings for insurance carriers, brokers and policy-holders as mentioned below.

Behavior policy pricing

Ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) sensors in devices will help provide personalized data to pricing platforms. Usage-based insurance for people leading healthier lifestyles means they will pay cheaper premiums.

Customer experience and coverage personalization

The introduction of chatbots enables a seamless automated buying experience for users. The AI tool can pull on customers’ geographic and social data for personalized interactions. On-demand insurance is also available for insurance carriers to allow users to customize specific health plans. This allows users to determine what their cover offers, which means savings in the long run.

Secure health insurance from a reputable broker

AI technology is likely to affect the entire landscape of health insurance as we know, but as we have already discussed, human interaction and judgment are essential in making sure technology benefits us going forward, especially when it comes to finding the best health insurance plan.

Contact our helpful advisors at Pacific Prime China today, to discuss the various types of health insurance plans on offer in China, or read the latest health news and trends from the company’s blog page.

Pacific Prime China’s advisors can compare health insurance plans from a range of health insurance providers, provide impartial advice, and negotiate the best plan deals on your behalf.

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Jimmy

Content Creator at Pacific Prime China
Jimmy is a content writer who helps simplify insurance for readers interested in international private medical insurance. He is on a mission in Thailand to support locals, expatriates, and businesses by bring the latest news and updates to his Pacific Prime blog articles.

His expert view and wealth of knowledge on insurance can also be found in his blogs for China, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.