e-Health in China, a market that is expected to reach $110 billion by 2020

Digital technology is revolutionizing the lives of all Chinese people and all sectors are concerned.  Since the vast majority of China’s 800 million Internet users access the Internet via their smartphones, the focus will be on the “mHealth” market.

According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, digital is revolutionizing the health sector in China, which could generate market opportunities of 110 billion dollars in 2020.

alihealth app china health
Home page of Alibaba’s Alihealth App

The difference between the European & Chinese system

A lack of General Practitioners

The Chinese health system is characterized by the absence of a first-line health service. Indeed, only 6% of doctors are general practitioners, compared to 94% that are specialists. As a result, the Chinese do not have a family doctor and must go to the hospital to consult for any reason.

For the 50% of the population living in the countryside, the only solution is the dispensary where the medical staff is poorly qualified: the service is provided by the famous “barefoot doctors”, who are not doctors as we understand them, but people who have received very basic training.

In urban areas, the 400 million migrants – those who have left the countryside to work in large cities or their peripheral industrial areas – cannot use “barefoot doctors”. The hospital is their main solution for access to care, which is difficult for financial reasons.

Wealthy Chinese and Medical tourism

On the other hand, the richest do not hesitate to go abroad, including for a routine check-up. In 2016, more than 500,000 wealthy Chinese people traveled outside China for health care, spending more than €10 billion, mainly on health check-ups and plastic surgery.

The middle class, estimated at more than 300 million people, whose annual income ranges from RMB 60,000 to RMB 229,000 (between €7,700 and €29,300), has a rapidly growing purchasing power and is increasingly sensitive to health issues. 

Chronic difficulties in the current Chinese health system

Challenges faced by the Chinese Health care system

Today in China, the health industry is largely made up of public actors, facing many challenges such as the crisis of seniors expected in 2030 as a result of the one-child policy conducted for more than 30 years in the country. 

In addition, there is the endless waiting time for appointments, the saturation of large hospitals, and the inaccessibility of health services in remote areas. Not to mention a private insurance system that is still too expensive and complex, the non-existence of connections between hospitals leads to difficult access to patient medical histories and file transfers. 

Patients in China are among the least satisfied in the world, creating a high demand for better treatments and services but government is working on it.

The use of AI in the Chinese health industry: e-health

It is in this context that e-health, or the use of technological and digital tools to find new solutions to these difficulties, comes into play. This new digitalization of the sector is taking place at all levels, from diagnosis to treatment, including appointments and medication, which has gradually relieved the Chinese medical services.

In the hope that these chronic difficulties in China’s health system will soon be a thing of the past thanks to the digitalization of the sector, already beautiful and well underway. 

e-Health an Industry that has proven efficient all over the world

Amid Covid-19 pandemic, The e-health Industry is booming

For the digital health industry, the opportunity is immense. According to BCG’s China’s Digital Health-Care Revolution report, the market will grow from $3 billion in 2014 to $110 billion in 2020, an increase of $80 billion over 6 years. 

The Chinese most likely to adopt mobile health has been the most connected patients, urban youth between 25 and 34 years of age, with moderate incomes and a low level of education. They are seduced by his promises to save on health expenses made with applications such as Kanchufang which allows them to self-diagnose and find out about their situation before the consultation. 

Checking health code during Covid19

Firms are Investing in e-health

The other factor in the development of e-health is an investment: attracted by the sector’s prospects for rapid growth. 

“A significant portion of this figure will come from the reorientation of health investments towards digital services,” says Olivier Wierzba, the firm’s associate director. “95 billion will go to health care and 15 billion to e-commerce.”

The firm anticipates the boom in individual and personalized support for people, particularly those with chronic diseases. Investments in this segment will increase from $9 billion in 2017 to $35 billion in 2020. 

Patient-physician online communication will also grow significantly, from $7 billion in 2017 to $26 billion in 2020.

BAIDU, TENCENT, and ALIBABA already in the race 

Digital companies, pharmaceutical groups, distributors, health insurance… All the actors involved in the health sector will have to adapt to stay in the race. Chinese Internet giants have already seized the opportunity of this revolution.

This is the case of the media group and search engine Baidu, which now offers consumers new online health services: making medical appointments, diagnoses, etc. 

Alibaba’s Alihealth app

It even created an application that locates the best practitioners nearby based on the symptoms described and beyond the Chinese Internet giants, by 2014, “more than 100,000 mobile applications were available on this market,” reports Thibaud André, a consultant at Daxue Conseil, in Maddyness.

The local e-commerce leader, Alibaba, is also entering the market with online pharmacies and its dedicated AliHealth subsidiary whose activities are focused on e-pharmacies. 

Tencent Wedoctor App

Tencent and his applications WeDoctor has been integrated into his instant messaging service on WeChat to dematerialized medical appointment scheduling. 

Traditional health actors are not left out. Distributors and pharmacies are actively exploring the potential of e-commerce.

For example, Shanghai Pharmaceuticals has teamed up with the Jing Dong website to create an online business platform. The insurer Ping An Assurance has launched a new application, Ping An Good Doctor, which offers online consultations. Venture capital-backed companies such as Chunyu or Xingren Doctors are entering the race with remote consulting services.

China holds second place in the digital health market 

Despite these obstacles, China has remained the world’s 2nd largest e-health market behind the United States since 2014, with a 37% market share in the Asia Pacific, according to the Brookings Center for Technology and Innovation. Experts in this market believe that the expected growth of the sector should come primarily from remote monitoring, self-diagnosis, and mobile treatment tools.

Western actors are absent 

Currently, Western actors seem to be absent. However, the regulatory framework is becoming increasingly favorable. The government, which has invested $9.5 billion in the development of digital medical records, is doing everything to boost the digital health sector. This revolution is also made possible by the digitalization of Chinese society, with the trivialization of mobiles and services based on big data or the Internet. 

Medical tourism and opportunities for foreign actors

More and more Chinese families are starting to worry about the safety and quality of their products, and they will probably spend more to ensure that they consume the best quality products.

Chinese people with higher education and more resources are seeking to improve their well-being in China. These new rich people are increasingly aware of new health issues. 

Health problems are even more evocative in 2017 due to work schedules, pressures at work, and sometimes social interactions. Growing needs for OTC medicines such as sleeping pills or antibacterial remedies, that can help the Chinese to cope with their heavy modern lifestyles where time has become an invaluable resource.

Thus, more and more rich Chinese are investing in travel for medical reasons. 

The number of people crossing borders for treatment is estimated to have increased from 7.5 million to 16 million per year. The market is estimated at more than $60 billion (according to Visa and Oxford Economics).

The Chinese go abroad for qualitative treatments, trust, and safety. They are mostly interested in complete health check-ups, cancer treatment, cosmetic care, and plastic surgery. In recent years, more than 600,000 Chinese have gone abroad to benefit from quality medical treatments. 

Europe is a popular destination because the aging of its population, which remains healthy, reflects the quality of care services provided there. The progress of medicine and the quality of equipment in the West are attractive factors for Chinese medical tourism.

Western medicine is increasingly privileged in China 

The expenditure on health products and services that Chinese consumers are willing to spend is increasing. As incomes gradually increase over the years, they tend to demand more of the latest medical treatments and services.

TCM is still very present in China

While Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is known worldwide as effective and natural practice, in China there is a decline in public interest in this practice. Traditional Chinese medicine is perceived by the Chinese as less effective (or even ineffective) practice than Western medicine. Western medicine is considered to be qualitative, effective, and strong medicine.

The Chinese are definitely convinced to buy more foreign products and thus invest in better quality products to ensure a better future. Thus, biopharmaceuticals are becoming more and more popular in China, because it is only foreign therapy. This is your differentiation criterion in this market.

New opportunities are then emerging for hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical devices related to new technologies. Deregulation of trade policies and strict state regulations are two key issues, which previously made the development of foreign companies in the health market complex, but which are currently driving the development of digital health in China.

Partnerships between foreign companies 

Investors and overseas companies have the legitimacy and rights to enter the health care sector in China. Establishing close partnerships with public institutions and investing in promising health systems.

These actors do not have the necessary Research and Development department to develop their own products and are only looking to improve products already exist on the market.

To compensate for this, many local groups are seeking partnerships with foreign pharmaceutical companies to develop unique and innovative pharmaceutical products. This solution provides a win-win situation by reducing the constraint faced by foreign companies when entering the Chinese market and the duration of drug approval processes on the market, which can take more than 5 years.

How to market your foreign health brand in China or promote your services to attract Chinese customers? 

With more than 800 million Chinese citizens connected online, Digital is the most effective solution. The one you have in China is the largest and most closed online system in the world. Chinese platforms dominate and should be used by foreign healthcare companies to increase their online visibility and reputation as well as their product range and associated health benefits. Digital marketing is also the most cost-effective method in the medical field offering a fast, measurable, and substantial return on investment.


When it comes to health care, the Chinese do more research than any other sector. It is therefore essential to develop your online reputation on forums, in e-media and on platforms related to Baidu in order to inspire trust, respect, and build a loyal and quality customer base. In China, it is vital for any medical or pharmaceutical company to invest in e-reputation and build trust between Chinese patients and the company. We help healthcare companies with the management of marketing forums and public or press relations.

Working on community management on the forums is an excellent way to enhance your reputation and rank in Baidu’s search results because the majority of these forums themselves are very well ranked.


Before any purchase or consultation request, Chinese patients will seek information about your services on Baidu. In a sector such as health in China, reputation is the most important criterion for consumers. The writing of a simplified Chinese website is essential. It must be hosted on a platform in China to be visible on Baidu (the Chinese Google). Chinese patients like the quality content, read the explanations and testimonies of doctors when it comes to their health.

Having a mobile application can also be a good strategy, many healthcare companies use it to engage their customers via a mobile application.

EMC欧洲医疗中心 website design by GMA


The most popular platforms that include the vast majority of Chinese users are WeChat and Weibo. In China, it is essential to give a significant part of your marketing strategy to social networks. Social media allows you to gain visibility and create a closer relationship with your Chinese patients. As with all levels of customer relations, Chinese consumers want to be involved in their health decision-making process.


WeChat now has more than 900 million active monthly users. An average user spends about 2.5 hours per day on the application. It is essential for a company that wishes to address a Chinese clientele to develop a strong presence on the first application in China.


Weibo is the second most used social network in China. It’s a mix between twitter and Facebook, even better.Weibo is very popular because it is the first network where the Chinese can express themselves. The platform, of course, is sometimes censored by the government, but less compared to other media, which is why users love Weibo so much.

For health brands, it is also an interesting platform, as Weibo allows brands to communicate with short messages and images. On Weibo, you don’t need to be connected with people or brands to view the content they publish. The content is publicly accessible.


In China, as elsewhere in the world, influencers (or KOL: Key Opinion Leaders) can be very helpful to win more credibility. Implementing a commitment strategy among these influencers is a fairly common strategy. In China, influencers are very powerful. Users trust them more than brands because of all the scandals that have occurred before.


In China, health or pharmaceutical companies must sell their products on e-commerce platforms such as JD or Tmall. These platforms are very popular and only sell high-end and verified products. You can’t find counterfeit products on JD or Tmall. They only accept quality brands with a good image and a good e-reputation.


Designing the right strategy for this market is the key to success. We are an agency specialized in digital marketing and we have worked with many companies in the pharmaceutical and health sector. Our Marketing-China website is intended to be informative and useful for professionals wishing to develop in China. Our Agency sets up services to carry out your projects in this booming market.

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