October 11, 2019

Digital Health in Asia - Well, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Martin Kelly
Chandana Fitzgerald

A good part of September was spent in Asia at our gatherings in Shanghai and Tokyo at JLabs and IBM respectively. Over the last 5 years, we have been hosting these events all around the globe but this was a first for HealthXL and we thoroughly enjoyed it while also learning lots of new things. 

A good part of September was spent in Asia at our gatherings in Shanghai and Tokyo at JLabs and IBM respectively. Over the last 5 years, we have been hosting these events all around the globe but this was our first time in these dynamic cities.  

We’re pretty optimistic you have heard about the large investment and commercial deals happening in China. You have also probably read about the scale of the opportunity. You may have also heard of the dearth of doctors and issues with access to healthcare for large rural populations. 

It is hard not to be both excited and overwhelmed by the sheer magnanimity of it all. 

A couple of things on the day really hit home. Feng Ge (CEO - Jiahui International Hospital) explained how his trojan horse strategy to digital transformation starts with building a new hospital and partnering with one of the leading US health systems (Partners/Harvard). While a Kaiser like ‘all-in-one’ model does not exist in China, his team have decided to create one! The logic is you need the best doctors to attract consumers.  In addition, you need a new facility/site if you want to create the ideal holistic model leveraging digital. So, you have to build a new epicenter, and branch out to all aspects of health and care-giving from the centre. 

Given the shortage of healthcare professionals in China, it seems obvious that AI has to play a new role in supporting the needs of a burgeoning market. Marco Huesch (CMO and Managing Director - Ping An) explained how they are approaching the opportunity that Asia presents. He gave us the lay of the land on the foundation and structure of Chinese healthcare, and of gaps and opportunities.

What we found most inspiring is the lack of legacy. Nobody was debating the definitions of digital health or digital therapeutics or deep learning but rather talking about how to transform the current model, improve access and make money. Quite a refreshing change and a well deserved dose of honesty for those of us gathered!

What ensued were two captivating panel discussions - one with local health tech entrepreneurs, and the second with healthcare leaders from China and abroad. The entrepreneurs focused their discussion on the current landscape of digital health offerings in China - from technology to regulation and adoption, by outlining their own milestones. There was consensus that with government and privately-driven interest & investment in technology, it is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in China. 

The second discussion was aimed at comparing and contrasting the West with the East so we can be educated on the opportunities and challenges. While everybody (the group comprised of Amy Gu (Hemi Ventures) , Robert Garber (7Wire Ventures), Farhana Nakhooda (Health Catalyst) , Philip Huang, (Roche Diagnostics) and Tony Estrella (Frontiers Health) were excited at the prospect of shared learnings and shared goals however the crux of the matter is that the societies function so differently that one cannot bring any assumptions while investing or partnering in China.  They highlighted the need to invest some serious money since the valuations in China can give Silicon Valley a run for its money.

Shanghai Event Report

Tokyo was both similar and different. Both are mega cities but in very different ways. Shanghai bursts with energy, bedazzled buildings and light shows on steroids (thanks to Golden Week) while Tokyo is strangely orderly given a population of over 30 million.

Our meeting in Tokyo focused on two topics where Japan is seen as a leader. AI and Senior Care, balancing a respect for tradition with a passion for the future. We captured opinions from Motoo Kusakabe (Open City Institute), Norishige Morimot (IBM) , Terry Sweeney (Watson Health), Jim Joyce (Health Beacon). 

Overall, a couple of themes stood out. First, user-centric design is paramount, and great technology including AI should be invisible. Much like how Tokyo, as a city, is designed - everything is organized, clean, pristine. Complexity was hidden and the design champions function and elegance. These qualities seem innate to every individual, and permeates society.  Second, a recognition of the holistic nature of health and wellbeing, as highlighted in Motoo’s presentation. 

A third, unspoken theme at Tokyo, was the excitement of the Rugby World Cup. Ireland’s loss to Japan in one match that coincided with our meeting (incidentally, of course) did not sully any spirits thanks to the healthcare leaders who came together to learn and share. There were only winners at this one!

Tokyo Event Report

If you are interested in learning about these markets (APAC), reach out to us and we can talk! 

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