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Taobao offers free hospital appointments

By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-23 09:36

Taobao, China's largest online retail site, has joined the fight against scalpers at hospitals by adding a free online appointment service.

The service, which started this week, allows registered users to book appointments with 70,000 doctors at more than 600 hospitals in 18 provinces and municipalities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

A user simply needs to click the hospital registration service tag at and select the region, hospital, department and time, as well as the doctor they want to visit. These appointments can be made one day to two weeks in advance, depending on the clinic.

"The service is expected to bring more convenience for patients and their families," said Taobao spokeswoman Chu Jia. "They don't have to wait in long lines at hospitals. Moreover, it will help reduce scalping."

To profit from the huge demand for hospital resources, particularly at well-known facilities, scalpers often attempt to snap up appointments early and then illegally sell them to genuine patients at inflated prices.

However, users of the Taobao service are required to provide personal information. When the appointment is successfully made, the service system will automatically send a message to the users' cellphones telling them the specific time and place to take registration numbers at hospitals.

"Actually Taobao is just providing an online platform to start the whole process," Chu said, explaining that the booking system is run entirely by run entirely by a non-profit hospital appointment service website.

She said the service provider is, a health consulting and medical treatment guidance website which provides a nonprofit online hospital appointment service.

In China, it is not easy for patients to make appointments with doctors in large hospitals, who usually see 10 to 15 patients each day and scalpers can sell appointments with experienced specialists for as much as several thousand yuan.

Chu at Taobao, which has nearly 500 million registered users, said: "Many patients have no idea about online appointments, and they have to use scalpers when they fail to make appointments at hospitals. By taking advantage of our wide influence and a large user group, Taobao wants to instruct people to make online appointments through proper channels."

Last year partnered Chinese third-party online payment service provider Alipay, which like Taobao is a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, to provide online hospital registration and payment services to Alipay users.

"The number of people using the service at Alipay is very small. We want to further improve awareness on a wider scale," said Wang Qing at Guahao.

Last year 12 million people made appointments through

Cracking down on appointment scalping is a major challenge for Since the middle of last year, the website has closed more than 1,500 suspected scalper accounts.

Wang said the website will continue to enhance monitoring of scalping behaviors.

In cooperation with Alipay, the website has set up a pilot program in Wuhan, Hubei province, allowing residents to pay the registration fees online in advance, which can help save time when seeking treatment.

"The program has seen very good results," Wang said. "People don't need to wait in line to pay the registration fees at hospitals, which takes more than an hour."

She added that the online payment service is expected to expand to other areas in the near future.

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