Assessment to ensure hospitals make the grade
Expectations that our health system be of the highest quality are inevitable given constant medical advances and rising affluence. Confidence in hospital services has been hit by a series of mistakes by public and private doctors. The Hospital Authority has rightly responded by taking the first steps towards implementing an open, internationally recognised, accreditation mechanism.
By having staff, facilities and services at our 44 public hospitals assessed regularly by a team of health professionals, standards can be assured and risk minimised. The 12 private hospitals in Hong Kong are already assessed this way, although under different foreign schemes. Ideally, once the system is in place and operating in the public sector, it should be widened to include private hospitals.
The authority has long had an internal assessment system for public hospitals. It has already improved transparency by implementing a voluntary 24-hour error-reporting mechanism for staff. But as the medical blunders and other problems - such as long waits to see doctors and short consultations - show, this does not address concerns about the safety and quality of services.
Medical staff have made mistakes, but this happens in hospitals the world over, no matter whether public or private. An element of risk always exists during treatment or surgical procedures. The aim of an independent accreditation mechanism is to keep the chances of mishaps as low as possible. Doing this by having a foreign group carry out the assessment, as the authority plans, is the way forward. With the tender process expected later this year and a pilot project completing the first accreditations within two years, a worthy start will have been made. But over time, Hong Kong should have its own assessment team attuned to local needs, as is the authority's long-term goal. To ensure that international trends are accounted for, however, some members of the team should be from overseas.
Health-care reforms will mean more residents will use the private rather than public system. Ensuring that standards in both sectors remain high is therefore important. This can only be done if all hospitals are assessed under the same system.