Shanghai fund company employee Cathy Wang said she and several friends searched the net for a private clinic in Hong Kong to make reservations to get Gardasil 9 shots against a common virus that can cause cervical cancer.
Gardasil 9, put out by MSD, isn't yet available on the mainland, but the Gardasil 4 vaccine is.
Sammi Zheng, a Beijing office worker in her early 30s, learned about the latter vaccine from online postings and chose to get an inoculation at a local community health clinic.
"I decided to get the inoculation after reading about the disease and the vaccine, but I wanted to save myself the trouble of traveling to Hong Kong," she said.
The modern generation of young people, who rely on digital devices for so many aspects of their daily lives, is plumbing the Internet for medical information amid widespread concern about health.
A survey of 1,400 patients last year by Kantar Health and the online medical community DXY.cn found respondents were spending about a quarter of their online time searching for information on disease and healthcare on medical sites, WeChat postings and pharmaceutical platforms.
But is the information always accurate and reliable?
Pharmaceutical companies and Internet service providers are seeking to ensure that the information they provide is accurate. They have also developed systems to track drugs sold online to make sure they are genuine.
Since last year, MSD China has distributed its Gardasil 4 human papillomavirus vaccine, also known as HPV, through mainland distributor Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products Co.
Earlier this month, it entered into a partnership with AliHealth to target women between the ages of 20 and 45 to provide them information on cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine.
"Amid a rising online population in China, we want to use the most efficient channel to help consumers get a better understanding of disease and health risks," MSD China President Joseph Romanelli said in an interview with Shanghai Daily earlier this month. "We hope to work closer with partners adept in digital technologies to help build an ecosystem that will ultimately help both physicians and patients."
Digital transformation in the pharmaceutical industry has come at a slower pace than development in industries such as finance, he added.
Other multinational drug companies are tapping into the convenience of smartphone applications and the user bases of Internet providers such as Alibaba.
Bayer is using digital channels to promote its self-care concepts and perhaps sales of its products. The Germany-based company wants to combine its resources with platforms such as Alibaba's Tmall Global flagship store to integrate with Alibaba's cross-border e-commerce ecosystem and merchandising capabilities.
China Biological Tech Co Vice President Wu Yonglin said his company is teaming up with Alibaba's AliHealth to explore new models to make healthcare information more accessible to consumers under the "Health China 2030" plan.