China's WeDoctor offers free coronavirus consultations globally in English and Chinese

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WeDoctor lets anyone in the world send queries to doctors who fought to save lives in China's most affected Covid-19 districts, and now helping people overseas to stay safe during the pandemic

After a grueling two-month campaign to stop the spread of Covid-19, China has finally hit the milestone of “zero” new domestic cases. In a bid to help other countries tackle the surge in coronavirus infections, China is now pro-actively sending resources and medical aid overseas. Healthcare platforms like Hangzhou-based WeDoctor is amongst the first to receive support to expand its services abroad, with support from the China International Exchange and Promotion Association for Medical and Healthcare.

On March 14, WeDoctor launched its English/Chinese language platform, WeDoctor Global Consultation and Prevention Center (GCPC), to provide free online coronavirus-focused consultations via texts, photos and voice messages. Overseas users can get access to the 24/7 on-demand medical services by following WeDoctor's official WeChat account "guahaowang."

Since its launch, WeDoctor’s new bilingual platform has attracted attention from consumers and doctors worldwide. WeDoctor has registered over 7,500 specialists in respiratory medicine, infectious diseases and general medicine at China's leading public hospitals who have helped 53,388 people as of March 27. 

"They are also experienced veterans in China's fight against the coronavirus outbreak," said WeDoctor's CEO and founder Jerry Liao Jieyuan. Partnered with insurer AIA, the Tencent-backed unicorn was considering an IPO in 2019.

Overseas doctors need help too

On March 16, GCPC received a special inquiry starting with, “I am so worried about my city,” from an Italian doctor named Luca Varcasia.

Varcasia described the tough situation in Sassari and expressed the concerns of medical professionals working there, asking for advice from doctors in China who have experiences dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. GCPC immediately invited Zhao Lei, the chief physician of the infectious disease department at Wuhan Union Hospital, to schedule an online training session for the Italian medics. 

Two days later and seven time zones across the world, the doctors met via video calls with an audience of around 10,000 from nine countries, including the Netherlands and India. A frontline doctor himself in China's coronavirus-affected districts, Zhao shared his experiences on Covid-19 diagnosis, treating patients, preventing healthcare workers from becoming infected and answering questions raised by the Italian physicians. 

“The information shared by Zhao and WeDoctor was pure gold to me and my colleagues,” said Varcasia. 

With the good feedback, Zhao scheduled another training session with doctors from North America on March 22. “We have fought a hard battle in China… Now by sharing my experience online, I hope my peers can have the confidence in their fight against the virus,” he added.

Wide use of health apps amid lockdowns

As healthcare facilities become overstretched during the global outbreak, telemedicine and online consultations have been rapidly deployed by local clinics and hospitals to cater to rising demand from existing patients and residents.

In China, the National Health Commission have issued three guidelines to encourage a wider adoption of online healthcare services. Over 10 companies have launched platforms for coronavirus-focused online consultations. Digital medtech Good Doctor, part of the insurance giant Ping An, clocked up over 1.1bn visits during the crisis. WeDoctor recorded over 125m visits since launching on-demand Covid-19 consultations in China on January 23.

In order to help users in China's worst-hit city Wuhan, WeDoctor added a special section on its platform to offer digital medical services including online follow-up consultations, medical insurance reimbursements and on-demand deliveries. Founded in 2010, the company has also released the world's first Chinese/English publication on Covid-19: Handbook of Prevention and Treatment of the Pneumonia Caused by the Novel Coronavirus. The handbook offers scientific epidemic prevention and control guidance to foreigners based in China and other countries.

Vital mental health support

Originally launched as a medical appointment booking platform Guahao.com, WeDoctor has expanded to become a leading telemedicine player in China as the nation's first virtual hospital. Its mission is to make healthcare more accessible and user-friendly, especially for people in the rural areas with limited heathcare options.

Knowing the importance of mental health to help people cope with the coronavirus pandemic, the GCPC platform also offers psychological assistance to help users manage anxiety and stress issues. In WeDoctor's Chinese portal, medical professionals run various types of WeChat groups to engage with users via live streaming sessions. The users can also share their own experiences and information with the medics and other group members living in different districts.

WeDoctor has also added a new Chinese traditional medicine (CTM) consultation section on the platform. CTM practitioners from 13 countries including China, Italy, France and the UK have been invited to join the site. 

Beyond online CTM consultations, GCPC also gives users access to its translated version of the CTM-related part of China’s Guidelines on the Novel Coronavirus-Infected Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment. According to the WeDoctor GCPC website, about 12.5m pageviews have been recorded and its epidemic prevention manual has been downloaded almost 143,000 times. The company plans to launch a "nucleic acid testing” service soon. 

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Edited by Suzanne Soh, Wang Xiao'e

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