The medical field is a haven for red tape, especially in China. Between patients, pharmacies, insurance companies, and doctors stands a mountain of paperwork that costs all parties an immense amount of time and money. As you can imagine, any means to cut through some of that bureaucracy could turn out to be very lucrative, so long as it isn’t shut down by the government.
It seems Zhang Yusheng, founder of Apricot Forest (杏树林), might have struck gold. The Beijing-based company publicly launched its iPhone app last month, what he calls an “Evernote for physicians”. Zhang says more than ten thousand users upload hundreds of medical cases into the cloud every day. Now he and his team of 20 developers and physicians are working on Android and iPad versions to be released this month, and looking to go beyond China’s borders, as well. Zhang says, “Our goal is to provide the best mobile apps for physicians to make their work easier and more efficient.”
MedChart (病历夹) is specialized for examination purposes. Replacing a burdensome physical notebook and separate camera, doctors can use their device to take notes and pictures of a patient. That information is then uploaded to the cloud, so the doctors can access it anywhere, including desktop browsers. Once a doctor verifies his professional status and agrees to never share the identity of any patient, he or she can share the data with other physicians using the app, creating a crowd-sourced community of experts.
“Some physicians even have over 100 cases recorded in their phone,” Zhang says. That statement is both encouraging and disconcerting. Even though doctor’s have access to all their patients’ info anyway, they don’t typically walk around with it in their pocket. Zhang trained as a physician in China, but he got his MBA in the US, where he also worked for a big health insurance company. As a result, he understands the security and privacy issues involved with such an endeavor. That’s why he plans to first target Asian countries, where laws about patient confidentiality aren’t quite so strict. He described the United States’ HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) as an obstacle, for example: “To use patient information, there’s very strict rules and regulations, which is not true in other countries.”
Still, there’s still a huge market in Asia for Apricot Forest to thrive in. And even though the laws might be more lax, that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. Zhang says his team takes special care to help doctors protect patient confidentiality, including a built-in editing tool used to redact a patient’s identity should it appear in a photo, such as a name on an X-ray.
He says the response from physicians has been very positive so far. However, they aren’t the folks Apricot Forest makes money off of. The app monetizes via targeted marketing, mainly pharmaceutical companies. “The users are doctors,” Zhang says, “but the clients are pharmacists.”
The company is a year and a half old, and is now in round A funding. Their other two apps are also healthcare-related: one for personalized medical literature and the other a reference for medical work that’s often difficult for doctors to memorize.
“There are so many problems in the Chinese healthcare system that need to be solved,” says Zhang. “So I might keep doing that for another 20 years, then retire, maybe find a college, and start teaching.”
Possible privacy and security issues aside, Zhang seems to have his heart in the right place. In any case, I’ll be happy to sacrifice whatever shred of privacy I haven’t already handed over to Google and Facebook if it means I get quicker, better quality healthcare. As Zhang says, “I think we need more serious apps which can really change the lives of people, or save people’s lives.”
You can download the MedChart iOS app here.