The suite life
With floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the lush greenery of Lion Rock, the private room on the 11th floor of Union Hospital in Tai Wai boasts all manner of luxurious amenities.
A massage chair, flat-screen television, a remote control for your air conditioner and blinds - nothing in the room suggests this is a place where patients recover from surgery. All the tubes, suction and oxygen pumps, and other medical equipment are hidden behind cabinets mounted on the wall.
'Such design ingenuity can help patients forget that they are in a hospital,' says Cheng Sze-man, nursing officer of Union Hospital's private ward. 'Having a nice environment to rest in also speeds the recovery process.'
The private hospital is among several that have set up luxury wards to cater to the rising number of affluent patients.
Private hospital administrators say the establishment of luxurious private wards can help diversify their businesses and satisfy the big demand for superb hospital care from well-to-do mainland, overseas and local patients.
Of the 12 private hospitals in Hong Kong, eight feature luxury wards. Most of these made their foray into the luxury market in recent years. The latest to jump on the bandwagon is St Teresa's Hospital in Prince Edward, which opened its luxury ward last year.
Located on the seventh floor of the hospital's main block, the ward has 22 private rooms and two suites, which cost more than HK$20 million to build. Private rooms start from HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 per night; suites, which occupy half the floor, cost HK$11,000 to HK$15,000 per night.
The suites have marble flooring and a secret passageway leading from the car park so that guests can have the utmost privacy. The toilet is an advanced model with a seat warmer and an automatic seat cover that lifts and closes before and after use. There is a television set in both the bathroom and separate guest room.
Chief nursing officer Florence Chiu Sau-chu says the renovation caters to an increasing number of wealthy mainland patients who are demanding the best facilities and services. 'We have regular private rooms that cost HK$1,000 per night. But they have long waiting lists. Patients often ask us whether we have something better which can be booked on shorter notice.'
Hence the new luxury ward, which is a big improvement on the private wards of the past.
'The two suites in the past were large but lacked luxurious features like separate guest rooms. Now, aesthetic concerns have been taken into account. Everything is grand, so visiting relatives, not just patients, can have a comfortable stay.'
Even the staff in luxury wards have been given a makeover. Matilda International Hospital in Central, which launched its private ward last year, introduced new uniforms this year.
'The design of the uniform matched that of the lobby better,' says a hospital spokesman. 'Many of the staff there worked in hotel, airline and other customer services sectors before, so they know how to serve people. We even employed chefs from five-star hotels so that patients can enjoy hotel-style food.'
Matilda has eight private rooms at the medical, surgical and paediatric ward that cost HK$2,970 per night, with two VIP rooms costing HK$4,000 per night. In 2008, the hospital launched a day-case unit with five private rooms, where outpatients or those admitted for routine check-ups without needing to stay overnight can recuperate in comfort. Each room costs HK$1,445 per day.
Both Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley and St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay opened their luxury wards in 2009, devoting entire floors to deluxe rooms.
The drive to develop luxury wards to attract big-spending medical tourists from the mainland and overseas has become more urgent in light of the recent government decision to ban mainland women from giving birth in private hospitals from next year.
Baptist Hospital in Kowloon Tong has been looking for ways to plug the expected loss in revenue from gynaecological services. The hospital admitted more than 10,000 pregnant mainland women last year, accounting for 80 per cent of all delivery cases.
A Baptist Hospital spokesman says they will enhance other services at the hospital in response to the ban. 'We will redeploy our manpower and resources,' he says. 'Concrete details are being discussed. They will be finalised at the end of this year.'
By 2014, the hospital will have a new block and 100 beds with deluxe private and private rooms, says the spokesman. It already has 19 private rooms which cost HK$2,800 per night in its luxury wards.
The aim is to make patients feel like they're at home. 'There's a microwave, refrigerator and two televisions in the room, with one television mounted on the ceiling for reclining patients. The large windows offer a panoramic view of the Kowloon peninsula, and soft and wooden colours in furnishings are used to create a cosy environment,' says the spokesman.
Of the eight hospitals outfitted with deluxe wards, Union Hospital boasts the most luxurious - the six suites with jacuzzis cost from HK$4,800 to HK$8,000 and can be joined together to form a super deluxe suite costing a whopping HK$45,000 per night. Only one celebrity has opted for such extravagant treatment.
With collapsible partitions, the suites can be customised to form varying sizes. The 11 smaller private rooms on the same floor cost from HK$2,300 to HK$3,500. A designer for the Four Seasons hotel was brought in to help with the design at the 11th floor luxury ward, which opened in 2006.
Compared with the regular rooms at the hospital that cost HK$550 to HK$680 per night, patients at the luxury ward enjoy a host of special services.
The patients are served by a team of 18 nurses, with one in charge of three to four patients. One day before admission into hospital, patients get a call reminding them to observe a midnight fast and other matters. Rooms will be cleaned only when patients are out for testing or check-ups.
While flashy facilities can spice up an otherwise dreary hospital stay, Cheng of Union Hospital says a personal touch is key to giving patients a good impression. This includes catering to personal preferences, such as wake-up times and mattress softness.
'We will record [the preferences] so that the patient doesn't have to mention it again during his or her next stay with us,' says Cheng, adding that the hospital has many return patients.
Even Chinese geomancy is factored into the design. Discarding chronology, the room signage at the ward omits the number four, which is associated with death in local custom. Room numbers end with eight or nine, which is associated with fortune and longevity.
Although 30 to 40 per cent of the clientele in Union Hospital's luxury ward are expectant mainlanders, Cheng says that the ban next year won't affect their business at all.
'Luxury wards are the future trend in all private hospitals. With a new block under construction, we foresee that we will get more and more rich patients. Besides pregnant patients, we serve all kinds of people, including expatriates who work on the mainland but return to Hong Kong to seek treatment.'
Despite the rush to develop luxury wards, Private Hospitals Association chairman Alan Lau Kwok-lam says investing in luxury offerings should not be the future direction of private hospitals.
'The space occupied by a luxury bed can accommodate eight to 10 regular beds,' he says. 'We are suffering from a shortage of beds. The four sites earmarked by the government for the development of private hospitals are mostly for day-to-day, not luxurious, services. The development of luxury wards is the policy of individual hospitals, not the general direction of the whole sector.'
The top price per night, in Hong Kong dollars, of one of Union Hospital's six jacuzzi-fitted suites
In sickness and wealth
Eight of the 12 private hospitals in Hong Kong have luxury wards. All rates are on a per night basis.
Adventist Hospital, Stubbs Road - private rooms from HK$2,980; VIP rooms from HK$3,800
Baptist Hospital, Kowloon - private rooms from HK$2,800
Canossa Hospital, Old Peak Road - private rooms from HK$2,550
Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, Happy Valley - private rooms from HK$3,180; suites from HK$10,390
Matilda International Hospital, Mount Kellett Road, The Peak - private rooms from HK$2,970; VIP rooms from HK$4,000
St Paul's Hospital, Causeway Bay - private rooms from HK$2,280; deluxe rooms from HK$3,600
St Teresa's Hospital, Prince Edward - premium private rooms from HK$3,000; premium suites from HK$11,000
Union Hospital, Tai Wai - private rooms from HK$2,300; suites from HK$4,800; super deluxe suite HK$45,000