From Heartache to Hope: Improving Heart Health for Newborns
When doctors found a small heart hole (unsealed oval foramen) in Wu Fei’s newborn, the father of two and hospital worker was worried. Congenital heart defects affect many newborns each year, contributing to infant mortality. No parent wants this kind of uncertainty for their child. But, thankfully, follow-up tests showed his baby’s heart was healthy.
This care was possible because Wu lives in China’s capital, Beijing, where such screenings are part of an infant health checkup program. Early diagnosis can allow early treatment. In general, modern medicine has made great strides in treating congenital heart diseases in children. Simple cases of ventricular or atrial septal defects now have cure rates exceeding 99 percent; surgery can fully restore normal heart structure.
Research by Tencent's Sustainable Social Value (SSV) Division’s Lab for Inclusive Health revealed, however, that where a child lives has an impact on the health care they receive. Access to quality medical resources tends to be reliable in major urban areas. But for the many families who live in low-resource settings, such as China’s significant rural areas, significant barriers to access can prevent children from getting meaningful attention like that infant heart screening.
Tackling Healthcare-related Inequalities in Low-resource Settings
Low-resource settings are regions worldwide—in both wealthy and developing countries—where healthcare-related inequalities exist due to socioeconomic factors. Common characteristics include low income, lack of education, poor infrastructure, and remote locations. All this disparity leaves children at risk of treatable heart problems going undetected.
Wu, who has since joined Tencent’s SSV Division, is working on innovative solutions that leverage technology to enhance healthcare accessibility, especially in low-resource settings such as Ningxia in northwest China.
Led by the Lab for Inclusive Health, existing healthcare resources are complemented through a simple early screening program for newborns, along with post-screening monitoring to ensure consistent and uninterrupted care. Backed by a wealth of reliable data, the technology makes it easier to identify and help those in need.
Caitlyn Chen, vice president of Tencent and Head of Tencent’s SSV Division, says the digital process management system has greatly improved efficiency, enhanced health outcomes, and is easily implemented on a larger scale.
The Solution Strategy
The “Screen-Diagnose-Treatment Network” project began with the collaboration of the health authority in Ningxia and the Lab for Inclusive Health.
The plan was to use digital tools that would discover heart issues early and ensure newborns get the right diagnosis and treatment. By connecting screening, diagnosis, and treatment, such an approach helps them at each stage, making sure even those who might have been missed initially can get care. For infants needing surgery, a system was put in place to manage the process of screening, diagnosis and treatment.
1. Improving Treatment: A Simple Mini-program for Real-time Care
To enhance the quality of medical care, Weixin mini program changed how information is managed, making it efficient for doctors and reassuring for parents. The digital tool became a seamless part of the healthcare process, ensuring both timely treatment and accurate data collection.
Benefits to Doctors: The mini program streamlined the previously time-consuming process of data entry, allowing doctors to record and update screening results instantly and securely. The results became available to other medical departments and hospitals, making further diagnosis and treatment planning more effective. This digital shift empowered medical professionals to focus more on patient care and treatment, while also reducing the risk of errors that could arise from manual data handling.
Benefits to Parents: The mini program provided parents with immediate access to their newborn's health information, putting them in the loop and reducing uncertainty. It eliminated the need for parents to wait for paper reports and enabled them to stay informed about their child's health journey. Digital transparency eased anxieties and empowered parents to be active participants in their child’s healthcare, enhancing the overall experience for families.
2. Improving Access to Screening: Smart Auscultation Tech
In pilot areas, the Lab for Inclusive Health tackled the challenge of offering free heart defect screening to newborns. They introduced intelligent auscultation technology, which became a game-changer in screening for heart issues.
Benefits: The technology added an extra layer of accuracy to heart screenings and transformed the process. It provided doctors with an AI-driven reference tool during cardiac auscultation screenings, leading to better detection rates. By reducing misdiagnoses, this innovation minimized the risk that a child’s heart condition would go unnoticed.
Results: The mini program helps doctors and families. It streamlines neonatal care and makes treatment more efficient. Over the past year, the network covered 24 screening centers, nine diagnostic centers, and three treatment centers in Wuzhong and Guyuan cities.
So far, the project has covered close to 20,000 newborns. Hundreds with heart issues were found, and about 80 percent got a secondary check-up. Among them, two babies from low-income families received treatment and every infant with heart disease received careful management and follow-ups.
As Wang Keran, a firsthand witness and user of the mini program, beautifully expresses, “Behind these numbers, there are families whose lives are changing for the better.”
The project will expand to other medical facilities in Ningxia. Tencent’s Lab for Inclusive Health aims to do more, exploring ways to include more women and children’s health initiatives and making lasting, transformative change.
The program is a roadmap for how technology can be harnessed for societal good and a template for similar low-resource settings globally. It continues our mission to use technology to break barriers and make healthcare inclusive and accessible for everyone.