On a mission for social equity

Dr Alex Ng discovered during his early medical career in a role as chief resident at the Middlemore hospital in New Zealand that he wanted to support those who are underprivileged.

The hospital was a referral unit for tertiary and quaternary care for the South Pacific islands, which allowed him to witness the impact of social inequality on medical care.

He was so inspired by this experience that he chose to with the Flying Doctors in the Australian Outback as his medical elective, to see a different side of rural healthcare.

“I think that started the whole journey. Then it was my work at the Gates Foundation, where the core underpinning of what the foundation stands for is to actually serve the underprivileged and underserved,” he explains.

After completing his Master of Public Health (MPH) at Harvard, Dr Ng joined McKinsey & Company and later became an associate partner advising governments and healthcare corporates on their strategy and operations. 

He went on to join the Gates Foundation as deputy director of the China Country Office, responsible for the health and innovation portfolio.

A long-term vision for population health

Dr Ng now leads Tencent’s healthcare business and is working to redefine its long-term vision. The company’s products include WeChat embedded mini-programs like ‘Tencent Healthcare’; an AI enabled clinical decision support system for medical images (AIMIS); and Oncology Assistant, an AI-enabled triaging system to better match cancer patients to oncologists.

The firm’s long-term vision is to improve the healthcare of the Chinese population and it has developed a charitable foundation and a new sustainable social value department, which aims to address social issues through business.

“We’re serving a 1.4 billion population and want to make sure that they all get healthy and healthier. We hope that they can actually do it through the tools that we developed, through the ecosystems that we built,” Dr Ng says.

He also teaches a master level course on strategies in healthcare at the University of Hong Kong.

Equitable access to healthcare 

Dr Ng is a strong believer that AI-based solutions can improve access to equitable healthcare.

“Let’s say you’re stuck in a rural village, even though you have X-ray or CT scans, you rely on the GP, or if you’re lucky a radiologist. But there are a lot of computer vision-based AI tools that will be able to read a CT lung or X-ray as good as any radiologist in the cities.”

However, he acknowledges that AI is limited by the data used to train it, which can lead to racial and gender biases.

“Being poor impacts your health and living in a poor neighbourhood impacts your health. If your AI training set is actually not representative of the population where you come from, I think that is the big caveat,” he concludes.

Dr Ng is speaking at the HIMSS21 APAC Conference during the keynote session, Nirvana in Connectivity: The Tencent Digital Healthcare Card. This fully digital event will take place on 18 & 19 October and is free for all healthcare providers. Register here.

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