Insurance innovation of the month – Ping An’s Good Doctor
Ninety’s “Insurance Innovations of the Month” feature contains regular snapshots of real and recent insurance innovations, based on conversations with the innovators behind them. They are drawn from anywhere in the world, and from all categories of insurance. If you’ve got an innovation you’d like to highlight, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Insurer(s): Ping An
- Market(s): China
- Insurance type(s): Health Insurance
China has historically had an under-developed primary care system and the health delivery in the country is dominated by government hospital system, which is largely speciality-driven. If a patient has an issue, they go to the AAA hospital. To see the doctor, they have to queue outside from 7.00am, with quite a stampede happening when patients try to get to the right registration desk for the right specialist they need. It’s not uncommon for people to spend most of their day at the hospital but spending only a few minutes with the doctor. Most of the consultations are not private, with 20-30 people queuing in the ward. Chinese specialists are very good, as they probably see more cases than anywhere else in the world, so, if the issue is serious, patients can be sure they will get the treatment they need. However, the experience is tiresome and problematic, especially for the GP-type visits. Of course, there are VIP services available, but, for an average person, these are not possible. That is where Good Doctor came in to bridge this gap in the market.
Good Doctor platform is about 8-9 years old now. It’s the largest telemedicine platform in the world and a listed company in Hong Kong since 2018. It started from zero and has been built entirely by Ping An. Today it has well over 300 million users. The concept that Ping An started with was basically to build a primary care platform that could be delivered via mobile on a mass basis. Ping An built a triage (recently automated) mechanism that allows the patient to ask any question for any set of symptoms; users interact with the interface to get an initial diagnosis and to decide if the next stage is to get a consultation with specialists. Other services that can be fulfilled through the platform include prescriptions, including delivery from the pharmacy, which in most cities in China can be done within an hour. Patients can also be referred to specific hospitals or clinics for treatment.
During the COVID-19 crisis, usage of the platform has increased tenfold. Good Doctor is the world’s largest platform of its kind. Of course, there are similar services in other places in the world, like Babylon Health in the UK, but Good Doctor has much wider reach. Up to this year, the entirety of the business has been built without any reimbursement from government’s health system. All of the revenues have been generated through the platform’s e-commerce (a health mall that accompanies the platform), consultation fees, or margin from selling prescription pharmaceuticals. In the pandemic period, starting with Hubei province (where Wuhan is located), for the first time, a formal programme started where people can be reimbursed for tele-consultation healthcare expenses.
Thinking about Good Doctor through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic is interesting. There are some voices in the digital health community that say that the consequences of the pandemic will hopefully be a distant memory in 9-12 months. Some think it will last longer and permanently change many aspects of everyone’s lives. When we look at China in the pandemic context, you can see clearly the art of possible in many aspects of fighting this health crisis; for example, how Wuhan managed to test 6.8 million people in 10 days. On one of the Fridays in June they tested 1.4 million people in one day. This shows that putting a rigorous programme in place to manage local outbreaks is possible; the same goes for travel and monitoring that carefully through means like a digital certificate confirming an individual’s test status. It is likely that this is how the new reality will shape.
One of the enduring consequences of this crisis is the realisation of how many opportunities exist in the health space. In many aspects of healthcare, technology has been available for a few years, but people’s behaviours haven’t yet changed as they’ve clung to a familiar way of doing things. The pandemic suddenly has shown us that there are lots of more convenient ways to do things, remotely and digitally. In financial services, every institution, no matter how well digitised, has found parts that still need further digitization efforts.
In health, for example, key doctors are saying that they could do 70-80% of their work remotely. It would be easier for them, and more convenient for the patients. In a remote environment they would be able to help more patients and charge less. This is potentially a game changer for telehealth and this model is starting to be perceived as a possible future backbone of the health system in China. One can imagine it evolving from a triage and consultation platform today, to an individual repository of health records, to a payment platform, to a data platform looking at efficacy of care longitudinally across large numbers of patients.
There are many more opportunities in telemedicine and ahead of Good Doctor. Think of mental health solutions that can be delivered through interactive digital technology, point of care testing solutions (including COVID-19, SARS, etc.) that can be plugged into a mobile phone and done at home. Ping An, through its Global Voyager Fund, has invested in Israeli business Tytocare who supplies digital stethoscopes, thermometers and cameras to look at the back of the throat and inside the ear. These are tools which provide the ‘last mile’ of the tele-consultation experience and bring telehealth very close to the historic delivery mode. Telehealth is at a pivotal point, where everyone in the world can now see that there are parts of the healthcare delivery system that can be done differently. People are now highly sensitised to not waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms catching each other’s diseases. If it’s cheaper, more convenient and more available, then why wouldn’t you do it this way?
As a social, for-purpose business ourselves, Ninety is always looking for the social, human or environmental impact of new ideas in insurance. Here, the impact is clear; with telehealth making healthcare more widely available at a cheaper cost and in extraordinary times like a pandemic, enabling people to better watch their health when in person visits are not possible.
Tips to other innovators
- Choose the right approach to innovation; for Good Doctor creating a new venture was the way to go, but Ping An uses different approaches for different innovations.
- Good Doctor was set up as a start-up, that means a separate legal vehicle and seeking external funding partners at the beginning. Even though Ping An retained significant ownership, having external funding partners validates the fact that you have an investable proposition, puts a benchmark on the valuation and creates a pathway to ultimately listing the company. Good Doctor is now worth $11bn on the Hong Kong stock market, but if it had been left to sit on Ping An’s balance sheet, it would have been lost in the noise for the analysts. As a separate entity it has a recognisable value. Ventures like that also incentivise entrepreneurial management in the parent company.
Categorization for insurance innovation portfolio planning:
Ninety Ten Big Ideas: this is an example of Ninety’s “Intelligent Risks” and “Risk Prevention” Big Ideas.
Ninety Ten Types of Insurance Innovation: this innovation combines the following Ten Types categories – 1) Operations & Claims, 2) Added-Value Services, 3) Customer Experience, and 4) Brand & Marketing.