Greater Trust, Better Communication: How Chinese People’s Relationship with Businesses Evolved Throughout 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.
Chinese citizens have been familiar with big-brand technology firms long before the spread of Covid-19. Mega technology conglomerates like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent developed products that permeate almost every aspect of a Chinese citizen’s daily life — from grocery shopping to payments, booking appointments, and sending money. Even before Covid-19, receiving social services from, or through, technology firms was already a common sight in China. The Covid-19 outbreak, however, put millions of people in lockdown and led to a spike in consumer demand for technological solutions and services. In many cases, these technology firms became the only avenue for many to access services outside.
Technology firms, too, were quick to respond to this growing demand for services — some under government requests, and many others voluntarily. Chinese people found themselves relying on these technology firms for integrated information on Covid-19, with many users actively participating in data gathering for these companies. This formed a new feedback ecosystem where users provide information, and technology companies take that information, process it, and present it back to the public in digestible graphics or summaries. There is thus a growing level of trust between technology companies and people in terms of information reliability, even though personal data privacy and security issues remain a concern. Meanwhile, the increased use of telemedicine suggests that more people are open to digital medical solutions now.
In short, amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, Chinese people’s relationship with technology firms evolved in three key areas: communication, data security, and telemedicine. Out of these, communicating and informing the Chinese public about Covid-19 and public health developments is where digital and technology companies surfaced as the authority. Overwhelmed with information, citizens have turned to these companies for easily digestible, reliable, and integrated information. The private sector has been very effective in communicating public health information to the public for two key reasons.
First, technology companies are better able to integrate information from various government agencies and present them on a one-stop platform. DingXiangYuan (DXY), China’s leading medical information platform, for instance, provided a Covid-19 information platform where users can monitor the virus’ real-time development throughout China. The information is color coded, and users can also select their circumstances— such as “going out”, “staying at home”, or “with kids”— and read about recommended precautionary measures specific to those circumstances. Its “Covid-19 myth buster”, which is easily accessible for the general public, also generates infographics that debunk key Covid-19 myths. In Zhejiang province, Alibaba developed a one-stop platform that integrates a variety of services for citizens, allowing them to access Covid-19 news, consult with a Q&A chatbot, and log their health status all in one place. One of its services even includes an “itinerary checker” that allows users to check if anyone on the same public transport was tested positive, and enable effective contact tracing.
Secondly, technology firms can tap into their existing user base when disseminating public health information. Many companies, such as DXY, Digital China Health (DCHealth), and Zuo Shou Yi Sheng (ZSYS), worked with WeChat during the outbreak. Given that WeChat is China’s biggest social media platform, companies that disseminated information or provided services through WeChat were able to reach more people than any government broadcast platform could.
Not only have people grown more reliant on information provided by technology firms, their interaction with these companies has also changed throughout the outbreak. Because Covid-19 developments are volatile and information relies heavily on real-time data, many technology firms chose to also engage their users in the data collection process. DXY’s “Covid-19 myth buster,” for instance, has a “report a myth” function. Alibaba’s services platform in Zhejiang also incorporated a “report suspected coronavirus cases” portal.
While Chinese citizens have grown reliant on technology companies to obtain information and are more willing to partake in certain data collection processes, data privacy and security remain a key concern. Many technology firms have to access raw data from hospitals or obtain health status information from citizens in order to build information platforms. DCHealth, for instance, is a medical big data company that integrated epidemiological, clinical, and community data for the Honghu government, a county not far from Wuhan. In order to gather daily health status data from citizens, the company had to rely on the government’s credibility. It built its health status upload system under “Honghu Today,” which is Honghu government’s official WeChat account, so that citizens understand that they are submitting their health status information for governmental purposes. DCHealth’s decision shows that Chinese citizens remain wary of granting companies access to personal data and are more comfortable with submitting personal information to the government.
Chinese citizens are also shifting their attitudes towards telemedicine amidst the Covid-19 outbreak. During interviews with several telemedicine companies, such as ZSYS and WeDoctor, they stated that people are now realizing that telemedicine goes beyond just online consultation. WeDoctor, a telemedicine company founded in 2015, also began to provide medicine delivery, pharmaceutical, and health insurance services during the outbreak. These services allowed patients with chronic diseases and other non-Covid-19 patients, who were unable to reach hospitals during the outbreak, to continue accessing medical services. During the outbreak, telemedicine companies also administered pre-diagnosis questionnaires that helped triage patients accordingly— keeping those who are likely not infected at home and focusing medical resources on highly suspected cases. According to China’s National Health Commission, telemedicine services in March 2020 increased by 17-fold compared to the volume in March 2019. Increased usage of telemedicine suggests that more patients will be open to using telemedicine going forward, even after Covid-19 eases.
As more citizens rely on technology companies for information, and more companies voluntarily compile data for the public, communication between consumers and businesses will likely increase as the battle against Covid-19 drags on. This strengthened trust between the private and the public sector will have positive ramifications on telemedicine and the wider digital technology industry; provided that technology companies continue to work towards safeguarding customer data.
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:
- Alibaba – https://www.alibabagroup.com/cn/global/home
- Baidu – https://www.baidu.com/
- Tencent – https://www.tencent.com/en-us/
- 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/
- WeChat – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WeChat
- ACCESS Health International – www.accessh.org
- WHO – https://www.who.int/
- The Rockefeller Foundation – https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/