Healthtech Innovations: Chinese Medicine in the Telehealth Era
Interview with Simon Wood, COO of WeTherapy Limited
23 August 2021
Chinese medicine (CM) is an integral part of Chinese culture, used for the prevention and treatment of diseases as well as health maintenance. In Hong Kong, CM has made a significant contribution to public health. As of February 2021, there were about 7,900 registered CM practitioners in Hong Kong, compared with about 15,000 doctors for western medicine. To further promote the development of CM, the Hong Kong Government has announced the preparation work for the city’s first Chinese medicine hospital, which aims to commence service in phases from the second quarter of 2025.
The use of telehealth has accelerated tremendously in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of its main advantages is that it can deliver convenient and efficient healthcare services remotely through advanced electronic communication technology. While most of the telehealth services currently focus on western medicine, WeTherapy is developing a health and wellness platform (with both in-clinic and telehealth functions) for CM. HKTDC Research interviewed Simon Wood, COO of WeTherapy, who shared the development and business model of the company and analysed the opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA).
Scope of Care
Outlining how, compared with western medicine, digitisation in the CM industry is relatively slow, Wood explained: “It still heavily relies on paper records, physical stores and cash payments. Nowadays, technology allows data to flow digitally in a highly automated manner, costs are lowered, efficiency improves, and flexibility increases. Therefore, we established WeTherapy to provide a completely new and digital consumer journey to CM users. We offer comprehensive self-services, provide integrated omnichannel offers, and fully utilise all available data.”
WeTherapy is a digital CM health and wellness platform established in Hong Kong in 2018 by its international founders. The platform expands the reach of CM with telehealth services, supports practitioners with AI-driven assistive diagnostic capabilities and provides individuals with one point of access to a comprehensive ecosystem. In 2019, the company raised US$5 million in a Series A funding round from Ageas, a European multinational insurance company.
With regard to the latest development stage, WeTherapy is now developing an app and a comprehensive clinic management platform, which will allow practitioners to connect with existing and prospective patients beyond their clinic walls. Wood added: “We want to make the benefits of CM more readily available through the app and significantly improve the connectivity and operations of practitioners with the WeTherapy clinic management system.”
Apart from the app and the management systems, WeTherapy is also developing an array of AI-driven tools, such as tongue imaging to support diagnoses and predict health issues and internal health imbalances. Tongue diagnosis is a key diagnostic technique in CM, which involves capturing and analysing various health signals based on a patient's tongue coating, shape and colour. Through careful observation of the tongue, a CM practitioner can assess a patient's health condition and identify specific health problems. Explaining how WeTherapy will take this forward, Wood said: “Our AI-driven tongue-imaging tools will identify different tongue patterns and coloured pixels, and provide an instant and free preliminary diagnosis of ailments. The tools assist practitioners to carry out diagnoses remotely, promoting the development of telehealth in the CM industry.
Hong Kong as an Ideal Initial Rollout Venue
To support and complement the development of Chinese Medicine Highlands in the GBA, the Hong Kong Government has devoted substantial resources to nurturing the industry in recent years. As a key milestone, the first Chinese medicine hospital (CMH) in Hong Kong is expected to commence service in 2025. Run by the Hong Kong Baptist University, the CMH will not only provide pure CM services, but also integrated Chinese-western medicine services. With the concerted efforts from different parties, Hong Kong’s CM industry looks set to scale new heights.
WeTherapy’s founders, along with their local team, chose Hong Kong as their initial rollout venue. In Wood’s opinion, the city enjoys a prime location that enables businesses to tap into the huge opportunities in the GBA and Asia. Hong Kong also plays a bridging role and contributes towards the introduction of CM into the international arena. More specifically, Wood pointed out four advantages of choosing Hong Kong as their pilot testing market.
- Demographics: Hong Kong has a diverse population that provides a well-established customer base of local CM users, foreign CM users and pure western medicine users. This makes Hong Kong an ideal place to gather data (such as consumer behaviour and purchasing patterns) from different population groups before heavily investing in one particular group.
- Prime location: Hong Kong is next door to the largest global CM market – mainland China. Businesses making a foray into the mainland market can capitalise on the resources, connections and strengths across the border, which facilitates Hong Kong as the most effective springboard for overseas companies entering the mainland Chinese market.
- Open business environment: Hong Kong has one of the most tax-friendly systems in the world, making it easier for companies to operate. Only three direct taxes (salaries tax, profits tax and property tax) are imposed in Hong Kong and there are generous allowances and deductions that are beneficial for businesses.
- Intellectual property (IP) protection: Hong Kong has a reliable and transparent legal system with a strong cluster of experienced legal services providers. This, along with a robust IP regime with strong IP enforcement, provides a safe legal environment for businesses.
Eyeing GBA Opportunities
Looking to the future, Wood is optimistic about the growth potential in the GBA, saying: “Our next step is to expand the GBA market. It’s home to more than 86 million people, and the incomes and purchasing power of the residents is rising. Given that the CM industry on the mainland is relatively fragmented with a large number of small-scale clinics, and technological adoption is sluggish, we see huge growth potential in the GBA market.”
In terms of talents, Wood added: “Hong Kong is facing a labour shortage in cutting-edge IT areas, such as data science and cloud security. In comparison, Shenzhen, the city lying across its border, has a larger pool of homegrown IT talent, and their labour costs are also notably lower. To fully leverage the different yet complementary advantages between Hong Kong and mainland GBA cities, we are now optimising our development hiring between our Hong Kong and Shenzhen offices, so that we can make the most out of our existing resources.”
Wood also has an eye beyond the GBA to the Australian market, explaining: “We are working with a leading CM manufacturer to test the CM e-commerce market in Australia. Through working with them, we can find out which CM products are more popular in a health-conscious market with a mixed population, facilitating our e-commerce development.”
In the long run, WeTherapy aims to provide standardised CM services on a global and remote basis, and further promote the use of CM internationally.
- Medical & Healthcare Services
- Hong Kong
- Hong Kong