Beyond Private Interests: Four Ways that Chinese Businesses Came Together During Covid-19
This article was written by Jasmine Su, a summer intern with ACCESS Health China. She is currently studying Health Policy Modelling at Yale University and aspires to combine her interests in journalism and public health in the future.
Covid-19 broke out in China shortly before the Chinese New Year holiday. Within a few days, the virus sent many cities, towns and counties into lockdown, and most businesses were asked to cease operation. At the same time, the medical industry was completely overwhelmed, and many hospitals had to rely on other companies to either provide medical equipment, manage medical supplies, or develop digital platforms. With most employees stuck in their homes, companies had to embark on uncharted pathways to help hospitals and governments. We observed four key ways that Chinese businesses collaborated with each other during the coronavirus outbreak.
First, many companies collaborated with businesses they have already worked with before or businesses within the same supply chain. ViewHigh, for instance, is a medical resource management company. During the Covid-19 outbreak, it built a medical supply management platform where hospitals could track their medical supply, donors could make direct contributions, and medical suppliers could take orders from hospitals. ViewHigh collaborated directly with medical supply suppliers and conducted quality control on behalf of the hospitals.
Other companies also relied on existing suppliers to help hospitals during the outbreak. United Imaging, for instance, is a medical imaging company that provided remote diagnosis systems and imaging equipment for hospitals across Wuhan during the Covid-19 outbreak. With Wuhan city under strict lockdown, however, it was difficult to acquire components needed to build these equipment and systems. Payment for these equipment supplies was also uncertain given the situation. United Imaging eventually convinced its suppliers to take the risk and provide components for the imaging equipment.
These companies, by capitalizing on their existing relationships with suppliers and hospitals, were able to quickly respond to changing demands as well. Zuo Shou Yi Sheng (ZSYS), a telemedicine company, for instance, initially developed a pre-appointment consultation robot for hospitals. After China’s National Health Commission announced that hospitals should also proactively follow-up with discharged Covid-19 patients, ZSYS quickly developed new products that allow hospitals to manage and send push notifications to discharged patients. Companies like ZSYS were able to respond to changing demands because they had solid, existing relationships with hospitals, suppliers, and other businesses in the supply chain, and were able to capitalize on these business ties during the crisis.
Another common model of business collaboration during the outbreak was launching services with an outreach model for new customers that relied on other businesses. Many companies, for instance, launched their services through WeChat, China’s biggest social media platform, to reach millions of users. DCHealth, a medical big data company that collected resident health data for the Honghu County government, told ACCESS Health International during an interview that WeChat provided ample backend support and that DCHealth’s engineers were already familiar with WeChat’s system, making the social media company its top choice for collaboration. ZSYS, the telemedicine company, also launched its Covid-19 self-diagnose robot through WeChat, which allowed ZSYS to reach tens of millions of Chinese WeChat users.
Another example of companies collaborating with each other to publicize their services was WeDoctor. The telemedicine company launched medical services for common and chronic disease patients across Guangzhou, Tianjin, Shandong, Jinan, and Taian early on in the Covid-19 outbreak, as many non-coronavirus patients couldn’t access hospitals. Once WeDoctor’s telemedicine portal launched, many medical insurance companies and banks voluntarily publicized the portal on their own websites and applications. These include China’s top five government-owned banks, as well as multiple other private banks and insurance companies.
The third business collaboration model that surfaced during China’s Covid-19 outbreak was to combine expertise from subsidiaries and affiliates. Alibaba’s project in Zhejiang, where it is headquartered, is a prime example. As a multinational technology conglomerate, the Alibaba Group combined expertise from its subsidiaries to build an integrated one-stop platform for all Covid-19 related services in Zhejiang. Alipay, Alibaba Group’s mobile payment application, became the launching ground for so-called “health code,” which became a widely-used, digital travel permit across China during the outbreak. Alibaba Cloud, the conglomerate’s cloud services subsidiary, provided all the cloud infrastructure, and DAMO Academy—Alibaba Group’s R&D arm— helped develop an Artificial Intelligence CT scan system. Alibaba Group, by bringing in almost all of its subsidiary businesses, was able to complete its project single-handedly without outsourcing any part of its operation and development.
The last type of business collaboration was to simply forge new business ties. Many of these collaborations happened under pressing circumstances, causing some companies to collaborate in innovative and unprecedented ways. When United Imaging was installing remote diagnosis systems in makeshift hospitals, the company realized that many hospitals didn’t have the internet infrastructure needed to transmit high-quality CT images. United Imaging thus collaborated with telecommunication companies to build 5G infrastructure in makeshift hospitals.
WeDoctor, the telemedicine company, worked with health insurance companies and funds to allow patients to be reimbursed when they are using WeDoctor’s telemedicine services. This is rather unprecedented, given that traditionally one of the biggest roadblocks for telemedicine companies in China was that most health insurance did not cover telemedicine services. The urgency of the coronavirus situation, however, pressured both insurance companies and the government to incorporate telemedicine into their business models. WeDoctor also began to collaborate directly with medical suppliers and delivery companies during the outbreak to deliver medicine to patients’ homes. These new models of collaboration between telemedicine companies and pharmaceutical delivery and health insurance businesses are likely going to transform Chinese health systems in the post-Covid-19 future.
However, forging all these business collaborations was a challenging task. During interviews with ACCESS Health International, many companies shared that as private businesses, they have interests and financial concerns, even when providing social services. Oftentimes, conflicting interests between companies can slow progress. The government’s role in mediating and coordinating business collaboration in times like these thus becomes very important.
Going forward, these different modes of business collaboration are likely to continue as the fight against Covid-19 drags on. Many new collaborations, such as those between telemedicine and medical insurance companies, will continue to make waves within the health technology industry. The government has also begun to take a greater role in facilitating business collaborations, including making necessary policy adjustments or removing bureaucratic red tapes. Our next article tackles how the relationship between the government and businesses changed in China throughout the Covid-19 outbreak.
For more information on the specific Covid-19 related work that companies mentioned in this article did, please check back on our website for a new case study report at the end of July. Our report, Tackling Covid-19 Pandemic Through Integrating Digital Technology and Public Health: Linking Experiences in China to the World, is supported by the WHO and The Rockefeller Foundation.
Links to the Companies mentioned:
DingXiangYuan – http://www.dxy.cn/
DCHealth – http://www.dchealth.com/dch-en/
Zuo Shou Yi Sheng – https://open.zuoshouyisheng.com/
WeDoctor – https://www.guahao.com/
Alibaba Group – https://www.alibabagroup.com/cn/global/home
ACCESS Health International – www.accessh.org
WHO – https://www.who.int/
The Rockefeller Foundation – https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/