Discover the Rising Stars №011 | Interview with Pharmlink’s Founder Jiang Kaili

Alibaba Cloud Innovation Center has introduced a new column, Discover the Rising Stars, to shed light on the backgrounds of entrepreneurs and company innovations. Through interviews, live streams, and other media approaches, we will deliver valuable news stories from multiple perspectives and dimensions, to offer you the real voices of entrepreneurs and to witness the power of technological innovations.

People usually hope that “the medicine will get rid of the disease” when they get sick. However, medication safety has become a potential hidden danger in daily medical care and medications. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one third of deaths worldwide are caused by improper medication. Statistics from China show that medical errors cause about 400,000 unnatural deaths each year, four times the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents, a large part of which are the result of incorrect use of drugs.

With the continuous innovation of information technology, new technologies such as Internet, 5G, and big data in traditional hospitals are developing rapidly. Reducing medication risks through information technologies is the medical industry’s latest development trend. In the 11th issue of Discover the Rising Stars, we gave an interview to the founder of Pharmlink, Jiang Kaili, the New Talent Award winner of the CACSC Shandong or W-Valley Innovative Entrepreneurship Contest, hosted by Liaocheng W-Valley, Alibaba Cloud Innovation Center, and Ctoutiao. Jiang Kaili explained to us how Pharmlink uses innovative technologies to solve this problem.

Since its establishment in 2016, Pharmlink has focused on controlling hospital medication risks and has developed a medication software, Wise Medication Review Platform. The platform is supported by a massive scientific and authoritative pharmaceutical database and uses information technologies for automatic review of doctor’s instructions and online queries of pharmaceutical information. This software is supported by rich pharmaceutical knowledge and oriented to clinical work needs, covering pre-prescription reminders, prescription interceptions, and post-prescription reviews, thereby building a complete system for proper medication.

Jiang Kaili, the founder of Pharmlink, introduced, “Our product is similar to the anti-virus software on a computer. If there is a safety risk of the medicine prescribed by the doctor, we would promptly remind the doctor who prescribed the medicine.”

As we all know, patients go to hospitals for medical consultations, and doctors prescribe medications according to their conditions. Still, each patient’s constitution is different, so there is a certain risk of medication as to whether the prescribed medications are suitable for the patients and any interaction between different drugs exists. In addition, some data shows that 50% of our knowledge on drug becomes outdated in every decade. This expiry date on drug knowledge will be even shorter in the future. This leads to a situation where the doctors can’t remember or use a large amount of basic information about drugs. In busy daily medical work, doctors, pharmacists, and other medical personnel lack the time for prescription review. To sum up, we can observe that medication risk has always existed, and the need to strengthen the regulation and assessment of doctors’ medication is imperative.

“This is the need of the hospital itself, and it is also what the policy demands.” Jiang Kaili explained that the government had introduced a series of policy measures to strengthen doctors’ medication regulations and assessments. This means all medical institutions need to have medication regulation software to pass the government’s review. “It’s a definitive need.”

The Wise Medication Review Platform is an auxiliary tool. When the doctor writes prescriptions or medical advice on the computer, the software will automatically catch and analyze relevant drug information. If there are potential risks or questions, the software will immediately notify the doctor. This helps doctors strictly control the prescriptions. For example, a hypertensive patient might be allergic to a particular drug or have adverse reactions after taking it. When the doctor fails to notice it, the software will promptly remind the doctor, thus improving medication safety for the patient.

Also, a variety of new drugs come to the market every year. It is impossible for doctors to understand or remember all of them, and therefore the research function provided by Pharmlink can help doctors get to know relevant drugs most quickly.

The Wise Medication software acquires customers by connecting with B and improving C. B-side customers are hospitals. C-side customers are of two types: Patients as the customers of medical personnel and the general public as the customers in the usual sense.

“Getting through to the B-side is the quickest and stickiest way to get professional C-side customers. Then our products and services can empower the professional C-side customers with knowledge, helping them to serve the general public with more efficiency,” said Jiang Kaili.

How to acquire professional C-side customers quickly and effectively? Jiang Kaili said to Ctoutiao, “If our product binds to a hospital, and if the number of outpatient visits in this hospital is about 3,000 each day, then our product service can cover these 3,000 patients. At the same time, we acquired 3,000 customers for free.”

Pharmlink uses an active and a passive method for customer acquisition. The active method allows Wise Medication Supervision Platform to connect to the hospital’s Internet and to push notifications to patients after receiving their medication, helping them proper medication. The passive method is done through QR codes. For example, a QR code is printed on the prescription issued by the doctor, and patients can scan the code to get medication instruction if they need it.

Pharmlink’s advantages in getting through to the B-side customers are as follows: First, Pharmlink has already had a certain number of customers, i.e., its products and services now cover more than 400 medical institutions in over 20 provinces and municipalities. Second, Pharmlink has nurtured a group of highly competent people capable of independently selling its products to hospitals. Third, Pharmlink has established stable channels and partnerships.

Jiang Kaili told us, “Pharmlink has worked with more than 30 mainstream HIT manufacturers in the market, but these channels alone are not enough to quickly take over the market. We are also trying to connect to more channels, including pharmaceutical companies, medical device dealers, and government departments. We have partnered with the health commissions in Jinan and Tianjin and provided the medication monitoring service for medical institutions in their jurisdictions.”

The latest statistics from the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China on the number of medical institutions nationwide showed that by the end of 2019, medical institutions nationwide totalled 1,007,545. Among them, 34,354 are hospitals, 954,390 are primary health care institutions, and 15,924 are specialized public health institutions.

Faced with such a vast market, Internet giants have also entered with the hope to capture the market in drug risk monitoring, but they are struggling. In Jiang Kaili’s view, the barriers to entry into hospitals are relatively high. It is difficult for foreign products or services to enter without the hospital’s trust, not to mention free access to information from the hospital. Coupled with the pursuit of rapid growth in the Internet companies, they often ask for specific hospital coverage within one year or two years, for the product to go online within a couple of hours, and for the engineers to resolve any issue without being onsite. These goals have proven to be unrealistic. This industry not only asks for advanced technologies but also needs to be supported by a vast knowledge database.

Jiang Kaili came from a medical background. He was a doctor first before he went on to work for The Lancet’s publishing company Elsevier for five years. During that time, he was most impressed that The Lancet and its company Elsevier have a history of more than 400 years. They have existed for such a long time and still have such a significant influence. Why? Because it is a knowledge-based company, and its greatest value is its accumulated knowledge.

Jiang Kaili’s goal is to build a knowledge-based medical information service platform, standardize and visualize information, and provide professional services for doctors and patients. The return of a product depends on its value. He believes that a knowledge-based company can only last if they provide great value, after which the company will grow bigger and bigger.

Currently, Pharmlink’s R&D team has more than 50 members, and the direction of R&D is mainly big data analysis and AI assistance. The company aims to minimize the risks generated by prescription drugs and reduce medical disputes by using advanced technologies and a considerable knowledge base of pharmaceutical information. There are already Dr. Zuo You, Sichuan Medicom, Hangzhou Ipharmacare, and other companies in this field offering precision services. What are the advantages of Pharmlink compared to these competitors?

Jiang Kaili said, “Our biggest advantage over our competitors is that we have a strong, integrated pharmaceutical information knowledge base, which has been accumulated for more than 20 years. Our core competency is a big data research and development team with strong comprehensive ability, integrating knowledge, big data, and B-side customers. Our goal is not only to create a professional pharmaceutical knowledge-based information platform but also to create a must-have application for doctors’ desktops.”

C-side customers. They are all in the growing stage, which poses an opportunity for Pharmlink.

“Our team can overcome the challenges in the market through hard works, but the biggest challenge is finding talents.” Jiang Kaili said. Pharmlink invests 60% of the funds on product R&D. For a startup, it is extremely difficult to compete with big Internet companies who enjoy the advantages of their financial wealth when it comes to recruiting talents in big data and artificial intelligence.

“At the moment, the medication safety firewall contributes to the digitalization of the medical system, gradually reducing improper use of drugs. However, Pharmlink is faced with another hurdle.” Jiang Kaili said, “The company is facing two major obstacles. First, there is a shortage of IT talents with medical backgrounds, and staff recruitment is in a tight spot. The second is that the financing environment in the medical market is less ideal compared to the consumer market, and therefore the company is running on the existing funds.” Having learned about the Alibaba Cloud Innovation Center, he participated in the CACSC Shandong, hoping to attract foreign capitals through the competition to improve the team’s research and development capabilities.

“We rarely participate in such startup competitions publicly. Our company has eyes on research and technology innovation in the medical industry in the past few years. The CACSC has opened our eyes to more opportunities. We were able to talk with hundreds of creative teams and dozens of investors. It was very inspiring to see different startups from various industries and their startup experiences. We have learned from their successes to implement new changes to our team’s operation in the future. I also hope that the CACSC can be a window for more and more people to notice the developments in the medical industry, and thus our team will be able to find talents and fundings to overcome the hurdle before us.” Jiang Kaili said.

The CACSC helped Jiang Kaili to realize the necessity of introducing foreign capital. Fundings from overseas can improve their abilities in product R&D and market expansion, projecting the company onto the path of faster development.

“Human life is limited. We should do things beneficial to this society and contribute to its development, thus realizing the value of life. This is my entrepreneurial motto and my advice to other entrepreneurs.” Jiang Kaili added. Pharmlink has assisted 400+ medical institutions with proper medication, and it will continue to guard medication safety to the best of its abilities.

When commenting on the future of Pharmlink, Jiang Kaili said, “In the future, the medication safety firewall will cover more hospitals and strive to become a product that can be widely accessible for the public to save more lives. Meanwhile, we hope that more people will join the field of medical information technology, contribute to medication knowledge, and boost the medical industry together.”

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