A couple who work as rural doctors in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region have been able to provide better healthcare services for rural residents thanks to iFLYTEK’s AI-supported diagnostic assistance system.
Shu Xuezhong has been practicing medicine for 30 years after graduating from a medical school in Ningxia. Shu addresses his patients’ health problems through both the modern medical knowledge he gained from school and the traditional acupuncture therapy practices he learned from his father. Shu’s wife, Xue Yonghua, has worked for 18 years primarily in maternal medicine after receiving professional training at hospitals in the town.
“We lived in Zhoutao Village of Haiyuan County located in central Ningxia until 2014. The villagers were scattered among the mountains and valleys and only connected by inadequate roads. To walk to the closest family took around 30 minutes,” Shu recalled. As the only medical worker in the village, he also needed to vaccinate the children under six years old in all the households. “The clinic I worked in was a mud house. The cotton balls, needles, and syringes were stored in aluminum boxes. I didn’t have a phone until 2005. Before that, the villagers had to come to me to ask for help. Whatever the weather was like, and no matter the time of day, I would go to provide medical services, even at midnight,” he said.
Then Shu and his fellow villagers were relocated to Sile Village where the residents live in more concentrated communities over the level land. “So, when anyone who feels uncomfortable gives me a call, I can get to them in just a few minutes. The conditions for practicing medicine have been improving,” he said.
After decades of continuous medical services, the couple have earned the respect of the villagers. “We are aware of the health conditions of all the seniors in the village and give them diet tips accordingly. They always follow our advice.”
After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shu and Xue were often busy collecting samples for nucleic acid testing. The couple didn’t have time to cook their own meals, so the villagers would often bring them food.
A “robot” assistant for rural doctors
The clinic that Shu and Xue now work in is well equipped with a consultation room, an injury treatment room, a medicine storeroom, and an infusion area. Additionally, there are two computers- one for giving prescriptions and the other for conducting telemedicine appointments.
On average, Shu needs to attend to more than 20 patients per day. “Sometimes, the patients can’t describe their conditions well, which can mislead my diagnosis. When I prescribe treatment on the computer, the Smart Medical Assistant gives me instructions and guidance as if I had another health expert by my side. Now the villagers don’t have to seek outside healthcare services for minor illnesses,” Shu said.
The Smart Medical Assistant mentioned by Shu was developed by iFLYTEK to improve medical services by integrating artificial intelligence into daily practice. iFLYTEK undertook the Grass-roots AI-assisted Diagnosis Enhancement Project in Ningxia from May 2020 to December 2021. Now, the entire region has access to the smart AI diagnostic assistance system.
The clinic where Shu works adopted the system in August 2021. “The ‘robot’ is an excellent service. When my prescriptions are not good enough, the system will provide suggestions for improvement. The system’s guidance has helped me advance my own knowledge and ability to appropriately prescribe treatment，” he said. “For patients with severe health conditions, the system can even provide detailed descriptions of the symptoms.”
Ningxia is the first demonstration area of “Internet + healthcare services” in China, with an AI-supported diagnostic assistance and treatment system covering all grassroots medical institutions in the region. Between July 2020 and May 2022, the system assisted over 6,000 grassroots doctors with more than 20 million diagnoses and 200,000 medical searches. The system can accurately support 95% of common illnesses, bringing communities high-quality medical services and eliminating the need to travel to urban facilities.