A family doctor in Chongqing provides medical services to a patient at his home in December 2016 (XINHUA)
Guo Fengqin says her life changed three years ago when she suffered a brain hemorrhage. Though she pulled through after intensive treatment in hospital, Guo, in her 60s, could not manage to walk on her own. So every time she had to go back to hospital for follow-up treatment, she needed her husband or son to accompany her.
"My husband was not keeping well and my son was busy with his work. I felt like a burden on my family," Guo said.
Last year, however, she found a way out. She came to know about Yihu365.com, the first mobile app in China to provide nurse services at home. She contacted the agency and was assigned Yang Hui, a nurse registered with them. Today, Guo says her health is improving and she feels positive.
"With a platform like Yihu365, through which nurses visit patients at their home, I am saved the bother of having to go to hospital for therapy," Guo said. "Yihu365 assigns clients nurses working in nearby hospitals who drop in after work. Yang works in a hospital very close to my home, and has come to help me several times. She has become very familiar with my symptoms and has been very efficient. It is a convenient, cost-saving and hassle-free arrangement."
Elderly patients have a growing demand for door-to-door medical services (XINHUA)
Filling a need
Guo is not the only one needing and benefiting from medical care at home. According to the China National Committee on Aging, the number of people aged above 60 years crossed 220 million in China in 2015. Out of this number, around 40 million have disabilities in varying degrees. Many elderly patients who have locomotory difficulties need regular injections and someone to administer them. But the public and community hospitals often don't provide such home services due to insufficient workforce and the high costs involved.
To address this need, Yihu365 was launched on December 22, 2015. The app provides professional medical services such as injections, drips, blood sample collection, urinary catheterization and nasal feeding at home by visiting nurses. The charges range from $15 to $30. Using the app, a user can select the service required and enter the relevant information. A nurse will then visit his or her home at the appointed time.
"It normally takes 10 minutes for a professional nurse to fit an elderly patient with a urinary catheter," said Wei Guilei, co-founder of Yihu365. "However, since community hospitals usually don't provide visiting nurse services, the patient's family has to call an ambulance to take him or her to hospital and bring him or her back home once the job is done."
Currently, the app's services are available in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and in some cities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, with plans for expansion in more provinces.
Yihu365 also brings opportunities for nurses with free time who want to make extra money.
"We nurses usually have more free time after work than doctors, so door-to-door services increase our income," Yang said. "My after-work patients are those who live near my hospital, so I spend very little time traveling."
Instead of crowding hospitals, patients can have medical services provided by nurses in their own time, which is both time and energy-efficient. Besides, these services do not require medical diagnosis or laboratory tests, and can easily be administered at home.
The app operators say they have a strict vetting system. Most of the nurses they work with are from top national hospitals and have three years of experience or more. Nurses from community-based institutions need to have more than five years' experience. As of now, more than 20,000 certified nurses have registered with the app.
To prevent medical risks, Yihu365 launched Angel's Eyes, a free insurance scheme for patients and nurses, last year. "This can better protect the interests of both patients and nurses," Yang said.
As of October 2016, the number of registered users on Yihu365 had reached 15 million, and its monthly transaction volume exceeded $46 million.
Yihu365 is only the tip of a booming industry. In 2015, the mobile medical care industry was worth $679 million, with a 54.24 percent year-on-year growth. The number of users reached 130 million, an increase of more than 66 million compared to 2014. The industry size is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2017, according to Qianzhan.com, a consultancy focusing on emerging industries.
Yihu365.com provides door-to-door injection services by visiting nurses for elderly patient (courtesy of Yihu365.com)
While the number of senior citizens in China is expected to reach 300 million by 2025, there is an acute lack of doctors and nurses. Currently, there are only 3.28 million licensed nurses, while nearly 3 million more are needed, according to Wei.
As elders' health gradually declines, so does their self-care capability. Hence both the local and central governments are exploring creative modes of providing healthcare services to this segment of the population. As the first online platform to provide healthcare services offline, Yihu365 is now looking to extend its coverage. The company recently established the Beijing Home-Based Services for Elders platform, which provides overall nursing services.
Family doctors can also sign contracts with Yihu365 and in the future, Yihu365 services will include home visits by doctors, leading to the next step in door-to-door medical services.
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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