Healthcare in China

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There’s a very interesting article in yesterday’s WSJ about the Chinese government’s aggressive push to revolutionize their medical records processes/technology. Many of the biggest technology hitters like IBM, Microsoft, and Dell are already engaged with local and provincial governments, trying to penetrate the growing market. It’s not apparent whether these organizations are working together to develop standards upfront, but if I was guessing I would say it’s not likely. Each organization is pursuing it’s own slice and self interest, working with their own contacts.

As with many opportunities in China, scale drives much of the interest from these mammoth IT shops. If you simply do the population math, there’s at least 3-4x the market size in China, not to mention the fact that Chinese medical industry is not nearly as mature as the Western world.  Plus, China’s one child policy has accelerated an overall aging of China’s citizenry.  But, the fascinating aspect to me is that the business requirements and the medical records solutions these companies will create, will have a uniquely Chinese feel. 
This is not porting an existing medical records processing application over from the US marketplace. Rather, China’s unique environment will require careful upfront planning to make new medical records solutions practical, maybe even more so than other industries like telecom or manufacturing. The “combination of Western and Chinese treatments” is something not seen in most of the medical records applications built in the West.  Additionally, the Chinese market is not homogeneous. Unless the end goal is only to improve the hospital technology in larger Eastern cities, other facts will need consideration. When doing the initial analysis and requirements gathering, the ability to deal with differences in language (Cantonese, Mandarin), character sets (Traditional Chinese, pinyin, etc), and cultural understanding (Han vs. Manchu vs. Uighur) could be included as part of the any design.

However, the most important factor required for success in modernizing Chinese healthcare might simply be standardization.  The kind of clear guidelines and collaboration by players like IBM, et al to help guide industry as it grows.  If not, technology silos lacking ideal interoperability will inevitably grow from the current “gold rush”.  Even with the talent that the aforementioned technology companies bring to the table, China may feel the same fragmentation pain in digital solutions that the US is experiencing.  It’s a potentially lucrative market for the biggest players in healthcare records management software, but there appears to be a great benefit to a unified approach now. Unfortunately, the Chinese government may already be in a catch up mode to make that happen. 

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