EHS-COVID (479) Q2 How have you responded to the challenges of COVID-19? (5) Digital health (3)

26 November, 2021

Citation, abstract and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Characteristics of Online Health Care Services From China's Largest Online Medical Platform: Cross-sectional Survey Study

Journal of Medical Internet Research. Jiang, Xuehan et al. 2020

BACKGROUND: Internet hospitals in China are in great demand due to limited and unevenly distributed health care resources, lack of family doctors, increased burdens of chronic diseases, and rapid growth of the aged population. The COVID-19 epidemic catalyzed the expansion of online health care services. In recent years, internet hospitals have been rapidly developed. Ping An Good Doctor is the largest, national online medical entry point in China and is a widely used platform providing online health care services.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to give a comprehensive description of the characteristics of the online consultations and inquisitions in Ping An Good Doctor. The analyses tried to answer the following questions: (1) What are the characteristics of the consultations in Ping An Good Doctor in terms of department and disease profiles? (2) Who uses the online health services most frequently? and (3) How is the user experience of the online consultations of Ping An Good Doctor?

METHODS: A total of 35.3 million consultations and inquisitions over the course of 1 year were analyzed with respect to the distributions of departments and diseases, user profiles, and consulting behaviors.

RESULTS: The geographical distribution of the usage of Ping An Good Doctor showed that Shandong (18.4%), Yunnan (15.6%), Shaanxi (7.2%), and Guangdong (5.5%) were the provinces that used it the most; they accounted for 46.6% of the total consultations and inquisitions. In terms of department distribution, we found that gynecology and obstetrics (19.2%), dermatology (17.0%), and pediatrics (14.4%) were the top three departments in Ping An Good Doctor. The disease distribution analysis showed that, except for nondisease-specific consultations, acute upper respiratory infection (AURI) (4.1%), pregnancy (2.8%), and dermatitis (2.4%) were the most frequently consulted diseases. In terms of user profiles, females (60.4%) from 19 to 35 years of age were most likely to seek consultations online, in general. The user behavior analyses showed that the peak times of day for online consultations occurred at 10 AM, 3 PM, and 9 PM. Regarding user experience, 93.0% of users gave full marks following their consultations. For some disease-related health problems, such as AURI, dermatitis, and eczema, the feedback scores were above average.

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of internet hospitals, such as Ping An Good Doctor, illustrated the great demand for online health care services that can go beyond geographical limitations. Our analyses showed that nondisease-specific issues and moderate health problems were much more frequently consulted about than severe clinical conditions. This indicated that internet hospitals played the role of the family doctor, which helped to relieve the stress placed on offline hospitals and facilitated people's lives. In addition, good user experiences, especially regarding disease-related inquisitions, suggested that online health services can help solve health problems. With support from the government and acceptance by the public, online health care services could develop at a fast pace and greatly benefit people's daily lives.

COMMENT (NPW): The authors of this paper all worked for Ping An Healthcare Technologies, which may well have introduced bias. In contrast with the paper from India I shared earlier today (which showed 75% of telemedicine patients were men) this China study indicates that younger women are most likely to use the Ping An Good Doctor service.

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,