One recent rainy day, Wu Hong was waiting at the gate of her residential community in Wuhan, Hubei province. When a deliveryman with a bag of medicine came into sight, she was greatly relieved.
Wu’s mother-in-law is a breast-cancer patient and needs to take medicine regularly. Wu’s father suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and inhalers have been in short supply. As the novel coronavirus epidemic grew more serious, Wu wasn’t permitted to take her family to the hospital for drug refills. She was left in a state of restless anxiety.
On Feb 26, Wu and her husband saw a news segment on TV saying that the Wuhan government had enabled online reimbursement services for internet healthcare company WeDoctor. That was when they decided to give it a shot.
With simple steps including registration, medical record uploading, online consultation, dispensing under e-prescription, automatic medical insurance settlement and online payment, Wu received the lifesaving drugs on Feb 28.
“As a daughter of chronic disease patients, I am glad to have such a convenient service that is not unlike visiting physical hospitals. And the online reimbursement service is a blessing,” Wu said.
In the battle against the epidemic, those suffering from non-contagion related illnesses are also being looked after.
On Feb 23, the Wuhan Healthcare Security Administration issued 18 measures to ensure epidemic prevention and control as well as routine primary care. Among these measures, one supported the inclusion of medical insurance into internet-based healthcare, which has generated much attention.
The introduction of the measures is a blessing for chronic disease patients as they have a constant need to purchase and collect pharmaceuticals during the ongoing epidemic period, industry experts said.
On March 2, the National Healthcare Security Administration and the National Health Commission jointly issued a guideline on internet-based healthcare during the special epidemic period, noting that online medical services are now included in the national insurance system.
“Due to epidemic prevention and control requirements, numerous physical hospitals across the nation have now introduced online consultation services. However, there is an urgent need to resolve online reimbursements, as medical insurance is an integral part of healthcare,” said Zhang Xiaoxu, a research fellow at vcbeat.top, an online healthcare website.
“Although good news regarding epidemic prevention and control efforts is increasingly being seen, we are still in a critical window period where there are limited medical resources and inconvenience in daily offline primary care,” Zhang said.
On Feb 24, Wuhan Union Hospital, Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University and Central Hospital of Wuhan included medical insurance into their online medical services. Patients can enjoy online consultations, online reimbursement and drug deliveries without leaving their homes.
On Feb 25, the Wuhan government agreed to include WeDoctor into the medical insurance system, and one day later, the service was open to the public.
According to WeDoctor, during the epidemic prevention and control period, consultation and treatment fees will be covered by the company, and drug prices will be in line with those in public hospitals. Drugs that conform to reimbursement requirements can be paid by medical insurance.
Other provinces are also taking actions during the special period. Currently, regions including Tianjin, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Sichuan and Guangdong are in the process of including online service into social medical insurance programs.
“Hospitals have helped patients relieve their anxieties about visiting hospitals during the outbreak of the epidemic,” said Wang Xin, a senior executive of Tianjin WeDoctor Internet Hospital, an online medical consultation service portal under WeDoctor.
On Aug 30, 2019, the National Healthcare Security Administration issued a guideline to improve policies regarding internet-based medical service fees and medical spending reimbursements, and many regions, such as Guangdong, Sichuan and Tianjin, have been taking steps since then.
Zhang said the epidemic battle has prompted healthcare departments at all levels to specify their supportive policies to promote internet healthcare.
“For regions that have introduced online medical reimbursement, a closed loop is formed, from online consultation to drugs, further boosting the development of the internet healthcare sector. Whether for public hospitals or online healthcare platforms, there will be more patients and doctors involved in the sector, bringing more social value and influence to the whole healthcare industry. All parties involved rise as the industry rises, and internet medical service platforms can explore a better mode to make profits,” Zhang added.