Alibaba Fights Corona Virus
Written by Michal Dallos
Big Data and the Virus

Insight: How China’s Alibaba Fights Corona Virus

Business model insights on how big-data helps getting a grip on the corona virus

On February 12, Alipay (Alibaba’s financial division) released a new feature in their app. It uses a colored QR code indicating the health of the phone owner in regard to the recent corona virus outbreak. The release was covered by Western media, like Reuters shortly after the release. However only limited information has been provided on the actual “business model” of this big-data use case. This post will help you to better understand this feature and what it means for the digital future of health care as well as public health service.

How Does Alipay Health Code Work?

The ‘key resources’ (in terms of business model canvas) are the user data 1) of location and health status, 2) of their interactions with other users and 3) of the infection path of the corona virus. The ‘key activity’ (in terms of business model canvas) is the determination of the three types of colored health code in the following dimension.

Space dimension: based on the user-data available to the company, the app determines the epidemic risk down to the street level.

Time dimension: Frequency of travels to the epidemic area and the duration of the stay which is correlated to the path of the infection.

Personal dimension & interpersonal relationships: the combination of a questionnaire with ID number and with possible symptoms like fever or a heavy cough combined with the status with close personnel.

color health code

Example of Alipay’s health QR code. Source: alipay

After quantifying the score in all three dimensions, the corresponding color code is generated in green, yellow or red.  Over time the Alipay health code is dynamically adapted to respective changes. Users with green color code may work or travel freely, without any limitations. Users with yellow color code are instructed to stay inside for 7 days. At last users with red color code are required to be quarantined for 14 days and seek medical assistance.

Within only few days, Alipay health code has become of great value to millions of Chinese users, allowing them to determine their health status, to protect themselves against an unwanted infection and to support them to regain a normal life – as much as possible under the circumstances of the corona virus outbreak. It is also clear that a green health code is not an absolute “free pass”. At important gateways like train stations or airports, measuring the body temperature remains an important safety measure.

Electronic Patient Record Implemented

Within the space of a few days, on February 21 the Alipay health code in Hangzhou has been significantly upgraded. Hangzhou citizens can now see doctor via Alipay health code by a very simple method: open Alipay and search for “Hangzhou Health Code”, select the type of residence (Hangzhou resident or not), and then “I’m going to a doctor”. Again within days Alipay has been connected to the patients insurances, hospitals, and the payment system into a single functional system. Patients no longer need to carry a physical insurance card or paper medical records, which greatly simplifies the process of seeing a doctor.

In the upcoming releases, various additional internet- and tele-medical applications have been announced, such as online signing-up, online appointment, internet diagnosis and treatment, report inquiry, etc.

New Features Expected Soon

The Alipay health code was released first in Hangzhou on February 12. On February 19 the number of applicants has already exceeded 10 million. Also within a week, the coverage of Alipay Health Code had extended not only to the whole province of Zhejiang, but also to Sichuan, Hainan, Shanghai, Chongqing, among other provinces and regions, landing in more than 100 cities. It is understood that the health code is an open system that can be quickly adapted to the needs of different regions, allowing the most efficient implement of the application.

Future of Global Public Health Rolled out Within Days?

The Alipay health code is a show case of big-data application. Because of the lock-down and of the holiday season, many of the Alibaba engineers worked remotely from their hometowns, who nonetheless managed to roll-out an ambitious system within days. It is an impressive demonstration not only of the potentials of big-data analysis based on social platforms, but also of China’s technological capability in the field of swift and large-scale launch of a system under such critical conditions. It is definitely something to be closely watched, as it may forebode the future of global public health service.

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