With all the talk today of 5G transforming countless industries, healthcare in particular could stand to benefit the most. One Chinese hospital hopes to use 5G to enable real-time remote surgeries and consultations in the future, says Dr Koh Hautek, the Chief Medical Officer (Dy) of Jiahui Health group in Shanghai. The group operates a 500-bed international hospital and medical centres across the city.
“With 5G coming in – and China is at the leading edge in 5G – there have been operations already done between Beijing and Hainan Island 3,000 kilometres away, in real time, in the public hospitals of China,” he tells Hospital Insights Asia on the sidelines of the recent Hospital Management Asia 2019 conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Certain public hospitals in China have been able to use advanced technology faster than their private sector counterparts. But Koh notes that the private players are fast catching up, bridging the gap for patients whose “paying power is a little bit higher” and are willing to pay more for high quality services and care.
“I do not see why, in the private sector, we cannot do that as well,” he notes, referring to 5G-enabled remote surgeries. “We can be operating on a patient somewhere in the inland part of China or outside of China even, operating from Jiahui Hospital.”
Real-time, live surgery across borders, across physical distances, is something that we are looking at.
What’s more, the hospital has built a teleconsultations network, and logistics supply chains to support it. Jiahui has focused on building last-mile delivery systems that enable seamless teleconsultation, says Koh: “Being able to deliver the medication for example, or equipment or devices that the patients need to offices or homes very easily.”
GovInsider recently reported that hospitals across China are trialing remote diagnosis and surgery to increase access to healthcare to rural areas. For instance, doctors in the Third People’s Hospital of Chengdu, a public hospital, are currently using remote ultrasound to diagnose patients living outside of the city, in real time.
According to the hospital’s Assistant Head Doctor, ultrasound enabled by 5G technology is allowing doctors to quickly check on patients across distances. “There is no lag time at all in the discussion between doctors,” Zhou Yang was quoted as saying.
Besides the technology aspect, the Chinese government is undertaking a massive healthcare reform. It has doubled the amount of healthcare spend on public hospitals to $38 billion this year, as part of efforts to offer affordable and high-quality healthcare services to a fast-growing middle class, Bloomberg recently reported. It is also easing its drug approval process, and leaning on global pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices.
Jiahui’s Koh notes that Chinese cities such as Shanghai are “potentially huge” markets which hold “a lot of promise” for private healthcare providers keen to expand and develop their services further. “Shanghai alone has 24 million people. And that’s one of the largest, if not the largest, global city around the world,” Koh says. “So that itself, with a willingness to pay for a higher level of healthcare, that is above what they can get in public hospitals.”