WeDoctor, a $6 Billion China Startup, Wants to be The Amazon of Health Care

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As soon as you’re diagnosed as diabetic, you get alerts on health supplements, ads for treatments show up on social feeds and prompts on insurance policies pop up on your phone. This is nothing but a manifestation of the trove of data harnessed by WeDoctor, one of China’s most richly valued online health outfits, in an ambitious quest to upend the business of personal care.

WeDoctor is backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., and joins a growing contingent of tech giants hoping to revolutionize an industry seemingly impervious to online disruption. WeDoctor’s focusing on something more pragmatic: making money by unclogging bottlenecks in a Chinese healthcare market slated to hit 8 trillion yuan ($1.2 trillion) by 2020.

Jerry Liao Jieyuan, an artificial intelligence maven, in 2010 founded the WeDoctor and its ambitions are nothing short of an Amazon for health care. Once a scrappy startup that helped people book doctors, it’s grown into an outfit valued at $5.5 billion that operates online follow-up consultations, drug prescriptions and actual clinics staffed by physicians.

It’s building AI to parse data, helping detect ailments like cervical cancer. It sells an Amazon Echo-like $600 speaker for the home that can link to fitness wearables and doubles as a doctors’ hotline. In Chinese fashion, it’s even concocted a game out of treating maladies: a function that helps sufferers ask questions and reward the best answers. 

Jerry Liao said, “AI won’t replace doctors but it will become an important tool for doctors and help improve their efficiency and accuracy” and further added, “Through the internet and AI, China’s health care services will improve significantly in the next five to 10 years.”

WeDoctor by the numbers Valued at $5.5 billion 160 million registered users 27 million active monthly users, connects 2,700 hospitals and 240,000 doctors, licenses to operate 10 online hospitals Revenue of 1.2 billion yuan in 2016.

In March, WeDoctor opened a clinic in Hangzhou, a rising tech hub that is home to Alibaba. The 2,500 square-meter center houses pediatricians, ophthalmologists and a CT scanner. It plans at least six by the end of the year, including in Beijing and Nanjing. Those clinics complement “online hospitals.” WeDoctor’s won licenses to operate 10 such platforms that offer real-time chats with doctors.