This is the second post in our member profile series. Read the first post featuring Ratio.
Tencent, a world-leading internet and technology company, is the power behind WeChat, China’s most-used communication and payment app. We sat down with LFPH board member and VP of Tencent Healthcare, Dr. Alex Ng, to hear about Tencent’s involvement in health, open source software, innersource development, and LFPH. We dive into how Tencent is using their membership with LFPH to move their internal goals forward and level up the capabilities of their team.
Alex has always straddled the medical and technology worlds, starting at university where he was secretly double-enrolled in both a medical and technical program—until he was asked to pick only one due to credit load. After practicing medicine for some years, Alex got an MPH, then became a management consultant at McKinsey & Company before heading over to the Gates Foundation to develop and lead their China healthcare and innovation strategy. That led to his role at Tencent, where he’s been focusing on developing a deliberate approach to healthcare delivery.
Discovering your product is a public health product
As a generic messaging platform, WeChat wasn’t conceived of as a public health tool. But that never stopped people from making use of their tool to manage their health. The executives at Tencent started noticing that doctors were forming chat rooms so their patients could ask for advice; people with rare diseases were forming support groups; and hospitals were creating ways to connect directly with the populations they served. While unintentional, it was clear that WeChat had become a healthcare app, alongside its many other uses.
China, like many countries, has seen a rise in the transmission of healthcare misinformation, including scams and false or misleading medical claims. Combating this issue has been one of Dr. Ng’s top priorities, as he wants to be sure that WeChat remains a trusted app that keeps its users safe. “This is gonna be a one stop shop, essentially, where you can find healthcare information.…This is not going to be commercially driven. So if we can do that and push up to our different search channels, then [patients] can actually get that legit information, first and foremost, before any ads.”
To achieve these goals, Tencent is creating healthcare portals within WeChat, and partnering with organizations like WebMD and hospitals all around China to supply and curate trusted, validated information to people around the country. Tencent is creating a platform within WeChat for patients to book appointments with their providers at hospitals, and working with the national insurance regimes to help patients pay for their care online and offline. As to why portals are used instead of search-driven content, Dr. Ng explains: “We felt that this might actually be a not a bad way for healthcare information and services to be delivered and accessed, fundamentally because we don’t want commercial influence over it. We want user choice over algorithms.”
Enhancing Tencent’s innersource initiatives and team development
Tencent’s open source strategy is still developing: they started with a strategy based on innersource development. As the company grew, it became clear that multiple teams were working on similar projects from different angles. To improve efficiency and congregate know-how, Tencent decided to go with an internal open source style policy to help create more collaboration across the organization.
Tencent is finding great value from LFPH in terms of guiding innersource development on their healthcare team. Joining Technical Advisory Committee calls and discussions about open source best practices has been a major professional development benefit for the engineers working on Tencent Health, guiding their approach to how they create software as a company.
”I want to actually use this [project] to learn,” mentions Alex, “so that others can promote an open source environment for healthcare solutions within China.”
As a board member, Alex is heavily involved in setting the strategy and direction for LFPH. He’s excited for LFPH to take 2022 to move beyond COVID response into preventative medicine and infrastructure solutions that can bridge health systems across borders. “A lot of health systems are inherently so different. So every stakeholder comes into the community thinking ‘how would this work where we work?’ ….That’s going to be the same challenge that we will face in healthcare. There should be some pockets where solutions will be more easily adopted.”
He’s been really surprised by the value he’s gotten from his LFPH membership. It has been quite different from what he anticipated upon joining: “You get more than what you expect to, and usually in different ways from what you actually originally intended.” And his advice to other companies looking to join? That they should go for it and learn more about those surprises themselves.