17 Sept 2014
Mainland Medical Devices Buoyed by Affluence and Health Concerns
- Photo: Child’s play: Home medical devices are now simple to use.
- Photo: An intelligent digital therapy bed.
- Photo: Health monitoring at home.
- Photo: Sonic toothbrushes and oxygen systems.
- Photo: Digital blood pressure monitoring.
- Photo: Colon hydrotherapy highlighted.
- Photo: Rhinitis therapy on show.
- Photo: Elderly and affluent: Target consumers.
- Photo: Enquiries soar as market matures.
In the developed world, medical spending is split 50/50 across pharmaceuticals and devices. On the mainland only 14% is spent on devices, indicating the potential spotted by many at the recent South China Medical Instruments Expo.
Despite its early development stage, many in the industry believe that China's home medical device sector has enormous potential. In light of this optimism, it should come as no surprise that this year's South China (Guangzhou) Medical Instruments Expo featured a huge variety of new domestic medical devices. These included colon hydrotherapy equipment, rhinitis therapy equipment, automatic digital 'talking' blood pressure monitors, home oxygen units, sonic vibration ionic electric toothbrushes, intelligent electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors and intelligent blood pressure/glucose monitors.
Health awareness on the rise
According to the 2013 China Medical Device Industry Development Blue Book, published by the China Medical Pharmaceutical Material Association, the total turnover of China's medical device market has grown from Rmb17.9 billion in 2001 to Rmb170 billion in 2012. This has seen the country become the world's third largest medical device market, after the US and Japan. This growth has been spurred by increased levels of disposable income and the greater awareness of health issues across the mainland.
Multi-age home medical devices
One company clearly benefitting from this trend is the Huizhou Miafi Electrical Appliances Co Ltd, which specialises in developing and producing oxygen concentrators. At this year's show, it was promoting its "Aimei" branded unit. The device, subject to a variety of design patents, utilises seventh-generation PSA (pressure swing adsorption) oxygen generation technology and comes with infrared remote control, an electrically-controlled oxygen flow meter, ionisation and atomisation functions.
Liu Cuiping, the company's Deputy General Manager for Sales, sees great potential in the mainland domestic oxygen concentrator market. She sees growth coming from China's ageing population, with many of the elderly increasingly in need of regular additional oxygen. This treatment helps prevent the decline of their organ functions and reduces the chance of critical illnesses.
According to Liu, there is already considerable awareness of the benefits of oxygen concentration in many overseas markets. Given the increasing inclination to ward off potential health problem, many such users view oxygen concentrators as "life protection umbrellas" for those family members who suffer from angina pectoris, asthma, diabetes or chronic bronchitis. This concept, however, is not yet widely accepted on the mainland.
In order to remedy this situation, Liu suggests that manufacturers target China's younger consumers, those with greater spending power and who are more receptive to innovation. The Aimei oxygen concentrator, launched by Liu's company in 2012, is said to have already proved popular in the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta, Sichuan and Chongqing, with sales doubling year-on-year.
Commenting on the growth of the sector, she said: "As well as their children looking to take care of them, the elderly are also keen to invest in their own health. In addition to purchasing health supplements, they are interested in buying their own healthcare devices for home use.
"Many of the elderly are prone to chronic diseases – such as hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes, spinal problems and arthritis. As a result, they need long-term integrated therapies. The relevant medical devices can, in effect, function as 'family doctors'."
Zhang Shuhua, Manager of the Guangzhou Jinglian Information Technology Co Ltd, also sees the separation of children and elderly parents – with many young mainlanders working far from their hometowns – as a factor in the growth of the sector. In line with this, the company recently introduced a new intelligent medical services system that facilitates the transmission of real-time health data from home users (via intelligent self-test medical devices) through cloud technology. These devices include ECG monitors, oximeters, thermometers and blood pressure/glucose meters.
When the patient's hospital receives the data, its medical staff can then remotely manage the users' health situation. The system allows homebound patients to enjoy a one-stop service from the hospitals, as well as from other community health service providers. Since its inception in 2012, this model has been adopted by a number of hospitals, elderly centres and retirements homes in the Pearl River Delta region.
Given the hectic pace of contemporary life and increased work pressures, home-use medical devices are not only used by the elderly, with a number of suppliers now eyeing the youth market. According to Liu, the user base for oxygen supplementation, for instance, is very broad. Aside from the elderly and sick, students, ladies, pregnant women and officer workers could all benefit.
In line with this, the Dongguan Real-care Electronics Technology Co Ltd was promoting its flagship home colon hydrotherapy equipment at the expo. The device is said to help relieve constipation by assisting bowel movements and detoxifying the body. It is also said to have therapeutic benefits for a number of gynecological conditions, such as cervicitis, vaginitis and cervical erosion. Additionally, it has applications in the beauty sector.
Strong market demand
Medical equipment and medication have long been the two pillars of the medical industry. In the global market, the spending on medical equipment vs medication is said to be roughly in the ratio of 1:1. In China, the spending on medical devices is only around 14% of that spent on medication. In light of this, many exhibitors understandably saw considerable scope for growth in the mainland medical device market.
According to Wang Bo, Sales Director of Dongguan Real-care Electronics Technology, some 55% of China's population suffers from some kind of gastrointestinal problems. This translates to around 770 million people being afflicted by anorectal diseases. At present, the majority of such sufferers only seek hospital treatment when they feel particularly unwell.
Wang believes that, if people have access to self-service colon hydrotherapy and detoxification therapy equipment at home, a whole host of gastrointestinal diseases and complications could be prevented. With this business opportunity in mind, the company has developed intelligent home-use colon cleansing machines, trimmed-down versions of the larger gastrointestinal medical equipment used in hospitals.
This system is said to incorporate an innovative non-invasive hydrotherapy method. All the user needs to do is insert a specially-designed nozzle through which water (at a controlled temperature and pressure) can flow into the relevant regions. It is simple to use and allows the user maximum privacy. Its special design also features 100% isolation between the electricity and water supplies, ensuring maximum safety. The machine is said to be already available via distributors in Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xian.
A new-style rhinitis therapy device, produced under licence from Mingzhifu (a Hong Kong company) also made its debut at this expo. In line with traditional Chinese acupuncture practice, this device is said to be able to relieve the symptoms of rhinitis by applying vibratory massage to certain acupressure points in the user's nasal area. This is said to simultaneously aid detoxification while boosting the user's immune system.
According to company's representatives at the expo, the various sounds produced by the device while unclogging the meridian channels in the user's body indicate the health status of the user. In this way the device functions as a family doctor, as well as a household acupuncture resource.
Intelligent, practical products
Against this backdrop of technological progress, there is a growing market for intelligent and practical products. Medical devices are increasingly digitalised, compact and more intelligent, as well as simpler and easier to use. This has contributed to the rapid home uptake of such medical devices.
One company capitalising on this preference is the Lighten Lighting Technology Co Ltd of Dongguan, which specialises in the development, production and sale of electronic rehabilitation products. Its products include walking sticks with LED lighting features, flashlight alerts and radio connectivity, as well as bathroom suction grips, handrails and mobility aids. One of its products is a combined walking stick, stool, MP3 player and card reader and comes complete with torch and flashlight alert functions. According to the company's General Manager, Pan Chunxiang, its policy of integrating energy conservation, environmental protection and low-carbon concepts with traditional rehabilitation equipment has make its devices popular home buys across the mainland.
Another company successfully accessing this market is Huizhou Miafi Electrical Appliances Co Ltd, which brought to the show its sonar vibration ionic electric toothbrush. This stylish item comes fitted with an advanced negative ion generator that produces three million high-density negative ions (per second), giving it a sonic vibration rate of 31,000 strokes per minute. The exhibitor was marketing it as ideal for oral care and boosting the immune system.
In the digital blood pressure sector, the Fudakang Industrial Co Ltd of Shenzhen produces a number of automatic monitors, infrared thermometers and blood glucose analysers. In its on-site demonstration, the exhibitor placed one of its contactless 'talking' infrared thermometers close to audience member's forehead. The body temperature reading was produced within 1-3 seconds, impressing many onlookers.
The South China (Guangzhou) Medical Instruments Expo 2014 took place from August at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex in Guangzhou. Around 500 exhibitors and 50,000 buyers attended the event.
Xing Fang, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou