Survey on online medical ads released following Baidu incident

Recently, the death of a university student in China got nearly everyone’s attention. Criticism is being directed at medical ads, with search engine Baidu at the center of the storm. Beyond that, concerns over the Chinese medical system, especially concerning the hospital involved, has been raised among Chinese people, who are now expressing their displeasure with China’s healthcare market online.

Wei Zexi, a 21-year-old diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, looked to Baidu for an answer after being told by many major Chinese hospitals that it was uncurable. The first search result that came up was a hospital which claimed to be able to offer a treatment with a high success rate. Trusting its 3A public hospital classification, Wei and his parents opted for the treatment. However, his condition deteriorated within months and he passed away in April.

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Influential bloggers and big media outlets are now accusing Baidu of promoting false medical information. One comment from a netizen says: “Baidu controls entry into the information era for most ordinary Chinese people, while directing them to an evil world with deceitful info”. Besides Baidu, the other party under attack is the public hospital, whose department of oncology is outsourced to a disreputable brand of privately-owned hospitals.

Wei’s tragic story brought disappointment in the Chinese medical system to the fore. An investigative column under Tencent Tech held an online poll with more than 16,000 participants. It concluded that there was a disparity in access to medical information and medical resources between people in different groups.

AllChinaTech handpicked some findings and conclusions from the report.

1. The poll asked respondents: which party do you think is mainly responsible for the death of Wei – the medical institution, the online medical information provider, or the regulatory body?

18.4% of 16,048 respondents think the medical institution is responsible, 31.7% blame the online medical info provider, and 43.6% think regulators are responsible.

2. For people who earn less than RMB 3000 in monthly income, the majority prefer medical ads on Baidu to be more closely inspected rather than removed. For those with over RMB 3000 in monthly income, the higher their income is, the more they tend to think that online medical ads should be banned.

The conclusion drawn by the report is that disparity in income reflects the disparity in access to medical information and medical resources. People with lower income depend more on the internet to get access to medical information and medical resources, and they tend to be the victims of false medical information.

3. Only 14.7% thought that hospital departments should be outsourced.

The report concluded that most people don’t think hospitals should outsource their departments to private companies.

But the problem is that it’s hard to know how many departments have been contracted to private groups. According to journalists and insiders, the departments of obstetrics and gynaecology and the oncology departments of many hospitals, especially “military hospitals” and “armed police hospitals”, are often outsourced.

4. In terms of choosing hospitals for seeing a doctor, 34.3% choose to not see a doctor as long as they think their condition is not that bad; only 10.1% choose to go to nearby hospitals; and as many as 55.6% want to see doctors in big hospitals with a good reputation.

Conclusion: Most people trust well-known big public hospitals, most of which are centered around big cities. This is placing huge pressure on Chinese medical resources, which are already unevenly distributed.

5. People of all age groups think there are more medical ads on the internet than on TV. But there are still a good many people aged over 50 who think there are more medical ads on TV.

Conclusion: Attention should also be paid to fraudulent ads on television, especially when many seniors, a demographic that is more likely to be scammed, are exposed to more ads on TV.

6. When asked “have you or someone you know been scammed by any fraudulent medical ads?”, only 17.1% of respondents said no. 30.7% have been, or know someone who was, a victim of false ads on TV. 47% answered yes for online ads, and 26.5% for ads posted outdoors.

7. Under what circumstances would people would consider online medical ads?

For people living in big cities, 29.8% would consider online medical ads if the disease is incurable in China, while 41.9% would never consider online medical ads under any circumstances. In lower-tier cities, 35.1% said they would consider online medical ads and 39.0% said no. For people living in towns and counties, 40.7% said yes to the first instance and 35.4% said no.

Conclusion: Although they know that there is a lot of false medical information online, many people still look for medical advice on the internet. The need for better or more effective treatment for major diseases is the underlying reason, says the report.

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AllTechAsia Staff

AllTechAsia is a startup media platform dedicated to providing the hottest news, data service and analysis on the tech and startup scene of Asian markets in English.

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