efe-epaBy Paula Escalada Medrano Hangzhou, China

Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the challenging healthcare system in China, the world’s most populous country, where hospitals are generally overcrowded due to the lack of adequate number of general practitioners.

Giving diagnoses, facilitating consultations with specialists and carrying out medical tests in remote areas of rural China are some of the advantages of artificial intelligence in the use of medicinal services.

"One of our goals is to help younger doctors be considered as medical experts thanks to machines that replicate the brain of an experienced one," vice president of the internet platform We Doctor, Cheng Yi, told EFE.

We Doctor, which was established nearly a decade ago and has powerful investors such as tech giant Tencent, connects patients to doctors, general physicians to specialists, and also those that conduct medical tests such as ultrasounds, MRI scans and tomographies using integrated data intelligence.

"The best opportunities for artificial intelligence are in the health sector and are in China, as we have more than two million doctors and millions of patients' data to be analyzed and compare," said Cheng.

In a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, the use of artificial intelligence seeks address problems such as lack of experienced professionals, overcrowded hospitals with lack of funds, and long waiting lists for medical examinations or consultations with experts.

"The number of patients attended to by a local clinic has doubled thanks to the diagnostic system using our ultrasound robot," Hu Hairong, director general of Demetics Medical Technolog, another company in the AI healthcare sector, told EFE.

During a visit to a public hospital in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where a robot was employed, Hu explained that these machines are especially useful in local hospitals where there are few specialist doctors.

"Our system serves to help doctors, not replace them: to give them more confidence while getting results. If their assessment tally with the machine's diagnosis, it gives them confidence, and it doesn't tally, it makes them reflect and exchange opinions with specialists, whom they can contact through a video call and who also receive the results," she added.

Moreover, the machine is believed to be more accurate than humans as she claimed that "it has an 85 percent success in figuring out whether a tumor is malignant or benign, while the same for doctors is between 60 and 70 percent."

In this manner, such firms seek to address the problem of shortages in healthcare in the world's most populated country. "China has a huge population and because of this we have many medical results. So we can train the machine with thousands of algorithms to learn from these data," Hu said.

Another problem that AI could address is by allowing people from remote rural areas in the country to have access to medical tests without having to travel to cities.

We Doctor has developed mobile diagnostic stations carrying medical equipment and regular doctors to carry out the tests and later send them to specialists for a second opinions.

"This project has a fundamental role in places without specialist doctors that can interpret medical scans, something that requires years of study," said the vice president of We Doctor.

The company, which is one of the most valued tech firms in the country, has also developed a home assistance product, namely "WeDoctor Tong," an apparatus developed by the University of Zhejiang and Harvard that can be used to connect to a doctor through a video call.

Moreover, several other accessories – such as a thermometer, a device to check glucose levels or heartbeat, among others – can be connected to the apparatus, which will provide the data to the doctor contacted, thus providing a clear picture of the state of the concerned patient.

We Doctor also has a space for traditional Chinese medicine, where machines act as doctor's assistants.

Currently, robots are being used in 1,200 institutes of traditional Chinese medicine that help in several fields, including formulating adequate treatments for ailments.

"They tell you, for example, what herbs you can or cannot mix, and what quantities to use," said Cheng.