Pharmacists on Alibaba Health treat disease with empathy


Fengjuan Li, a pharmacist on Alibaba’s online pharmacy, AliHealth, will always remember the question asked to her by a 17-year-old high school boy two weeks ago: can I die by taking a large number of tablets?

The boy was referring to over the counter tablets that he had been taking for insomnia and depression.

Li told him no, he would not.

The boy responded saying, “But I want to die,” at which point Li realized that the online patient did not need medication or a doctor, he needed psychological counseling.

More and more, patients who are using the online pharmacy are consulting doctors not just for medication, but for deeper emotional support. To help the boy, Li communicated with him online for one week. Gradually, his condition improved and he did not think of death.

“Be sure to have patience. Actually, a good mood is half the cure,” said Li.

Psychological treatment through the pharmacy

In 2004, Fengjuan Li became certified to be a pharmacist. In October 2016, she became a pharmacist on AliHealth, which provides free medical advice to users over the internet. Upon receiving her degree, Li knew her job would require equal parts focus and chemistry – but she didn’t foresee that AliHealth would allow her to emotionally participate in patients’ lives.

In some places where medical treatment is underdeveloped, Li is the only person a patient can rely on.

One of Li’s patients lives in a small village in Yunnan Province, a beautiful region in Southwest China known for its many ethnic groups and rolling landscapes. He walks over 20 kilometers to the hospital to buy his medication. After discovering that he could buy medicine and also receive health counseling online, he opted to save the trip and refer to his pharmacist for advice. He asks Li questions when he has a cold or mild illness.

Shared Pharmacists to meet growing demand

On March 7th, AliHealth launched a new program called Shared Pharmacists to meet the growing shortage of licensed pharmacists online. The program is an online consultation service for third-party pharmacists on the AliHealth platform. There are 3,000 licensed pharmacists like Fengjuan Li on AliHealth who provide consultation to patients at no additional cost.

Hongbin Liu, the leader of AliHealth’s customer experience department, said that at this stage the platform will continue to provide its “shared pharmacist” service, and also provide a virtual drugstore clerk to facilitate customer experience in offline stores. Using the AliHealth app, drugstore clerks who may not be licensed may consult with an expert online and receive assistance in less than ten seconds.

In accordance with the quantity and quality of consulting service, AliHealth compensates some licensed pharmacists a healthy sum of money, with some experts earning 10,000 yuan per month.

“What we want to solve is not only the shortage of licensed pharmacists but also to help offline pharmacies provide better services to customers. Customers’ problems can receive a timely response via online consultation, thereby reducing the chances of suggesting inappropriate medicine. As a platform, Alibaba is willing to take on social responsibilities,” Hongbin Liu said.

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