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Chinese startup offers system for remote traditional medicine

Maizhiyu's technology allows doctors to monitor patient's pulse via internet

Maizhiyu's online diagnosis system for traditional Chinese medicine allows ordinary patients to receive treatment via smart devices and the internet. (Photo courtesy of Maizhiyu)

BEIJING -- Chinese telemedicine startup Maizhiyu has developed a system to allow traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to carry out pulse diagnosis remotely.

The system makes traditional medicine accessible to ordinary patients via smart devices and the internet.

Pulse diagnosis is a key diagnostic technique in traditional Chinese medicine, which involves capturing and analyzing various health signals provided by the patient's pulse and requires a range of esoteric knowledge and skills. Through pulse palpation at three locations on each wrist, a Chinese medicine doctor assesses the patient's health condition and identifies specific health problems.

It has long been considered almost impossible to create a device capable of pulse diagnosis, let alone for telemedicine.

The groundbreaking technology from Maizhiyu (the name means "the language of the pulse") has enabled the firm to complete an angel round, raising millions of dollars from Fu Dongping, an angel investor from Meituan Dianping, a group buying and consumer review website.

In China, many people, even Westernized urban residents, still turn to traditional Chinese medicine for their daily health management. Chinese medicine is widely used, by itself or in combination with Western medicine, to treat patients.

Maizhiyu's mainstay product is something like a "pulse fax machine" which collects and reproduces the pulse remotely for telemedicine. Two instruments -- one for "pulse collection" and one for "pulse reproduction" -- are used to gather information about the patient's pulse, such as its strength and weakness, at the three locations -- cun (inch), guan (gate) and chi (foot), from the closest to the furthest from the wrist -- as well as at three different depths each -- fu (floating), zhong (middle) and chen (deep) -- and reproduce the conditions at these different positions for diagnosis.

The company developed the system on its own and patented four key technologies. With a prototype already complete, and mass production is ready to start.

Maizhiyu first launched the product in the market for medical education and training services targeting Chinese medicine schools, training course providers, students and primary care practitioners. The product met demand arising from a dearth of highly skilled and experienced experts in traditional medicine. There are only several hundred top Chinese medicine experts certified as "masters" by the government or nationally reputed practitioners.

That means Chinese medical students have few, if any, opportunities to learn from expert traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

Traditionally, knowledge about pulse diagnosis is taught mainly through textbooks, which are filled with figurative phrases and expressions whose accurate meanings are hard to comprehend, such as "like a knife scraping a bamboo," "like rain staining sand," and "like an ailing silkworm eating leaves."

To solve the problem of a lack of practitioners, Maizhiyu integrated smart devices with videos for education and training into an accessible platform for remote study.

After rolling out products for remote education and training in Chinese medicine, the firm started developing telemedicine systems. The coronavirus pandemic has boosted demand for remote medical care, drawing the sector's attention to the potential of medical treatment over the internet to achieve faster diagnoses and treatments, increase the efficiency of care, and reduce patient stress.

Under the traditional remote medical care system, small clinics apply for telehealth care services at large, well-equipped hospitals that provide such services. Such applications have to be submitted one or two weeks in advance.

But this cumbersome and time-consuming process has hampered the incorporation of telemedicine into routine medical care. Maizhiyu's system is simpler and more accessible.

The system's pulse collection and pulse reproduction instruments simplify communications between hospitals while doctors can communicate directly with each other through an online chat application.

Maizhiyu has started offering the telemedicine service through its Cifang Chinese Medicine chain of private clinics. The company is also seeking to forge a strategic partnership with Beijing No. 1 Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine. The hospital's five departments plan to introduce the firm's telemedicine system by the end of this year.

Maizhiyu receives a certain portion of the fees for remote medical care services based on its system paid by patients. The costs of the services for patients are several hundred yuan, compared with 1,000-2,000 yuan ($140 to $280) under the traditional system.

By making remote care based on Chinese medicine accessible for ordinary citizens, the company's system may inspire more patients to opt to have their ailments "seen" on a computer, tablet or smartphone by a traditional practitioner and have treatment prescribed as needed.

By stepping up its marketing efforts, Maizhiyu is hoping to provide the system to 50 leading hospitals across the nation by June next year.

The company is also in a business tie-up with the provider of a platform for hospital information systems. The 2,000 or so clinics registered for the platform have access to the company's telemedicine system.

36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.

For the Japanese version of this story, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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