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Tencent-backed patient-centric crowdfunding platform Shuidichou is under fire for loose sign-up practices

When hospitals are treated like marketplaces, is kindness abused?

Photo: Shutterstock

Beijing-based online crowdfunding platform Shuidichou, which is designed as a financial safety net for anyone who may fall ill and cannot afford medical treatment, hired marketing representatives to promote its service to hospital patients in more than 40 cities, but had no effective mechanisms to check their families’ current assets, Chinese media outlet Pear Video reported on Friday.

One hospital security guard accused Shuidichou of treating hospitals like marketplaces.

In a video that was recorded in secret, one of Shuidichou’s representatives revealed that they would visit a hospital in Chengdu every day, and canvass every ward between the fifth and 28th floors. The representatives introduced themselves as “volunteers,” and offered assistance to set up crowdfunding campaigns in under 30 minutes. The campaigns’ narratives were typically boilerplate. During the verbal exchange, Shuidichou’s representatives would inquire about a patient’s financial state, though no proof was ever presented to show their current assets.

Another individual working for Shuidichou said he once earned RMB 14,000 (USD 1,990) in monthly commission for signing up patients for crowdfunding campaigns on the platform. Others said that even though Shuidichou does not charge fees from patients, the platform still benefits from signups, because donors are highly likely to purchase health insurance packages after they make donations.

Pear Video‘s clip also showed a Shuidichou “volunteer” advising a cancer patient’s family member to overstate the amount of money they needed for treatment and seek RMB 150,000, even though local public medical insurance would cover half the cost.

People’s Daily, a state-run news organization in China, commented on Sunday that Shuidichou was meant to be used by patients of their own accord. The news outlet went on to suggest that Shuidichou may be exploiting charity in its business, and called for regulators to probe the issues brought to light by Pear Video.

Shuidichou responded via its Weibo account shortly after the video went viral, saying that the incidents highlighted by Pear Video are individual cases where staff members deviated from the platform’s mission, and indicated that the staff involved will be penalized after a nationwide probe, with an emphasis in cities like Chengdu, Zhengzhou, and Ningbo — where Pear Video recorded evidence of the marketing representatives’ actions.

Shuidi also owns and operates a mutual help platform called Shuidihuzhu and an online insurance platform called Shuidibao. In March, the company closed its RMB 500 million Series B round, which was led by Tencent. It then raised RMB 1 billion for its Series C round in June, with Boyu Capital as the lead investor.

Shuidichou explained in a Weibo post that its offline service team was set up to assist elderly patients and individuals who are not familiar with using the internet. It went on to explain that its approval process incorporated social network connections, third-party verification, and feedback via public opinion. Shuidichou also said that it has suspended its offline team from marketing activities.

For now, there are no legal guidelines or requirements for platforms like Shuidichou to verify their users’ assets and financial conditions. Aside from Shuidichou, Qingsongchou and Sina-backed Nuoyanchou offer services that are designed to assist individuals who have been priced out of conventional insurance plans.