Amazon Wants to Disrupt Health Care in America. In China, Tech Giants Already Have.

BEIJING — Amazon and two other American titans are trying to shake up health care by experimenting with their own employees’ coverage. By Chinese standards, they’re behind the curve.

Technology companies like Alibaba and Tencent have made health care a priority for years, and are using China as their laboratory. After testing online medical advice and drug tracking systems, they are now focused on a more advanced tool: artificial intelligence.

Their aggressive push underscores the differences between the health care systems in China and the United States.

Chinese hospitals are overburdened, with just 1.5 doctors for every 1,000 people — barely half the figure in the United States. Along with a rapidly aging population, China also has the largest number of obese children in the world, as well as more diabetes patients than anywhere else.

The companies’ technological push is encouraged by the government. Beijing has said it wants to be a leader in A.I. by 2030 and pledged to take on the United States in the field. While officials have emphasized the use of artificial intelligence in areas like defense and self-driving cars, they have also aggressively promoted its use in health care.

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Alibaba and Tencent, which already dominate China’s e-commerce and mobile payments sectors, are at the forefront. Among their goals: building diagnostic tools that will make doctors more efficient.

Amazon and its partners, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, see technology as a way to provide simplified, affordable medical services. Although the alliance is still in the early stages, it could create online services for medical advice or use its overall heft to negotiate for lower drug prices.

“It’s fair to say that across the board, the Chinese tech companies have all embraced being involved in and being active in the health care space, unlike the U.S., where some of them have and some have not,” said Laura Nelson Carney, an Asia-Pacific health care analyst at Bernstein Research.

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