To understand Chinese physicians’ engagement with digital platforms during the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, China Pharmaceutical Market Research Association led Kantar, IQVIA, HLT and Adelphi FocusR to launch a nationwide survey to measure their attitude and behavioural changes.
Between 29 February and 5 March, professional online healthcare professional survey platform Good Doctor managed to collect valid answers from more than 6,000 Chinese physicians across 30 Chinese provinces. It is now clear that the time window was towards the end of COVID-19 outbreak across the whole country. The survey has covered all hospital levels, physician levels and city tiers.
Physicians’ workload change during outbreak
To contain the spread of coronavirus through hospitals, 4% of surveyed hospitals shut down their in-patient wards, 12% hospitals suspended their out-patient services. The number of physicians receiving patients and their patient loads were also affected. Across the country, the number of out-patients these hospitals received dropped by 51% from pre-COVID outbreak level to 41 patients per day during the surveyed period (29 Feb – 5 March). In Hubei, the decline was even higher: a drop of 58% to 32 patients per day.
The decline of follow-up outpatients is even bigger: 94% surveyed doctors reported a decline. On average, the number of follow-up outpatient is 61% lower than pre-outbreak level. The subscription for follow-up outpatients extended from the pre-COVID outbreak length of 0.8 month to 1.7 months during the surveyed period.
We’ve heard a lot of physicians appealing for more personal protection equipment, but towards the end of the epidemic circle, sitting on the top list of supports these physicians need is to advance their knowledge and skill in their specialised areas, almost or more than doubling the need for COVID-19 knowledge and PPE.
Physicians’ choice of digital platforms during epidemic
In the week prior to the surveyed period, 78% of physicians had accessed medical information through digital channels/mini-sites/apps of pharmaceutical companies on an average of eight times a week. The pattern is consistent across all city tiers and hospital levels.
Physicians in the epicentre Wuhan City are more willing to access medical information via digital channels and platforms (84% vs 78% non-Wuhan doctors). The same is true for physicians in designated COVID-19 hospitals vs non designated hospitals (81% vs 77%).
Compared to owned digital channels from pharmaceutical companies, third-party digital platforms are more preferred by physicians: mini-site/channels on third-party professional medical digital platforms, such as DXY (丁香园), Good Doctor (好大夫) and WeDoctor (微医) (60%), live or recorded webinars (52%) and representatives’ online promotion, such as through WeChat Moments and posters (51%).
Evolution of Internet hospital during outbreak
Physicians who have registered with internet hospitals have seen more patients online than offline, which was the complete opposite of the pre-outbreak situation.
During the outbreak, the most common activity was “free clinic”, the same as in the pre-outbreak period. However, during the outbreak, the share of inactive physicians increased as well.
However, those who registered an account on internet hospitals were quite loyal to the platform, as more than 73% of physicians agreed that they will continue to use an internet hospital in the long term.
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