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Baidu responds to hospital search result scandal

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China’s State Internet Information Office (SIIO) announced on Monday that it will set up a joint investigation team with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The team will be stationed at Baidu in response to the case of Wei Zexi, a college student diagnosed with cancer who died this April after being cheated by a Tier-1 hospital that appeared as one of the first results on Baidu’s search engine.

Two years ago, Wei was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Wei and his family performed a search on Baidu and found a military hospital classified as a Tier-1 (primary) hospital, which claimed to be able to prolong Wei’s life for another 20 years with DC-CIK cellular immunotherapy. A doctor who had been featured on mainstream media said the therapy was from Stanford and that they were quite sure it would work. The result? After spending over RMB 200,000 (USD 30,900) at the hospital, Wei died at the age of 21 and left his friends and family in grief and in debt.

Photo from NetEase News

According to He Ting, a medical expert from Tsinghua University, “DC-CIK cellular immunotherapy”, though a promising therapy, is still too inefficient to succeed and is not yet being used in clinical trials. The military hospital belongs to a chain that contributed a large amount to Baidu’s revenue last year. The hospital’s appearance as the top search result on Baidu was misleading because Baidu’s ranking system allows businesses to pay to promote themselves.

For its part, Baidu said it welcomes the joint investigation team. The company double-checked the hospital’s qualification certificate last Thursday, and on Monday agreed to investigate the hospital’s primary qualification with the unit responsible.

This is not the first time that Baidu has gotten in trouble for its healthcare-related services. Earlier this year, communication platform Baidu Tieba’s hemophilia board, a self-organized gathering space for 7,712 Hemophilia patients, was rumored to be put up for sale. Baidu responded to criticism from netizens by putting its commercial cooperations in disease-related Tieba sections on hold and promising to balance commercialization and user experience.

As the search result scandal escalated, Baidu VP Wang Zhan, commonly known as “the father of Baidu’s promotions”, was dismissed. Even though according to Sina News, the dismissal was unlikely to be caused by Wei’s case, the reason for his dismissal was cited as “violating professional ethics and harming the company’s interests”, a phrase that is often used to refer to bribery.

(Top photo from Baidu)

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