Go private, clinic patients urged
Long-time patients who have been attending public health clinics for more than five years will be encouraged to switch to private doctors while continuing to receive subsidised medicine from the Hospital Authority, under a proposal being considered to relieve overburdened public hospitals.
Long waiting times at clinics have been a growing headache for the authority, which says a wait of more than a year for a first appointment for some patients is unsatisfactory.
The authority is considering various ways to offload patients to the private sector. They include encouraging patients to transfer to the private sector and having allied health professionals treat them while they wait for a doctor's appointment.
The number of attendances at the authority's 48 specialist outpatient clinics rose from 5.7 million in 2003-2004 to 6.2 million last year, while attendances at its 74 general outpatient clinics rose from 4.3 million to 4.8 million during the same period.
The median waiting time for a first appointment at some ear, nose and throat clinics is 85 weeks. Eye clinics have the longest median waiting time of 91 weeks.
A senior health authority source said some public patient profiles showed many could afford private services but still sought services from public clinics to save money.
The authority charges only HK$10 per drug item for up to 16 weeks of treatment. The cost of drugs can run to several thousand dollars per three-month period for a chronically ill patient in the private sector.
'Many chronically ill patients see their family doctors and come back regularly to public clinics for medication. We want to encourage these patients to stop coming back to the public clinics, but to continue to get drugs from us,' the source said.
The authority has launched a pilot scheme where some patients can see private doctors with a public subsidy. The HK$6.5 million Tin Shui Wai Primary Care Partnership Project allows residents in the district with chronic illnesses to see private doctors for the price of a public clinic consultation.
Patients can have 10 consultations a year at HK$45 each. The authority covers the remaining fees and gives medicine to the private doctors.
Hong Kong Medical Association resident Choi Kin said he was not optimistic about the public-private collaboration because the authority did not have a good track record in liaising with private doctors.
'The Tin Shui Wai project has received a poor response because the authority does not take our advice on supporting doctors' computers and paying reasonable service fees.'