Technology a double-edged sword in providing quality health care

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 December, 2009, 12:00am

You are doing a very good job in ensuring that readers in Hong Kong are kept abreast of the health care debate, fulfilling the newspaper's responsibility to inform and educate.

However, having recently and unexpectedly been inducted into the health system as it is practised in Hong Kong, it occurs to me that doctors and journalists risk ignoring the fundamentals of the debate.

Making health care a more equable proposition is laudable, but the issue to be solved first is surely what sort of health care should be provided.

My recent few blurred days, where the credit card machine vied with the deployment of sensors and lasers for the most frenetic activities, were instructive and reinforced my view that technology is a double-edged sword.

Doctors in other times would once have started any consultation with a thorough physical examination of the patient.

Now the accepted practice is to order tests that involve every new toy available and, as with most new toys, involve commensurately high fees and charges. The laying on of hands was notable for its absence.

Medicine and journalism have both been materially affected by technology.

Unless both professions recognise that these technological advances are merely tools, like the adze and the tractor, and not universal panaceas that mean people don't have to get their hands dirty, we will fail to find heath care models that are effective or affordable. What is certain is that basing an ongoing model on one that is bloated and flawed is a recipe for disaster.

In my particular case, a second opinion sought from an old-fashioned GP took less than 10 minutes, cost a normal consultation fee and arrived at precisely the same diagnosis reached through two nights in hospital, consultations with one doctor and two specialists, three ECGs, too many blood tests to count, two separate chest X-Rays, a Cat-scan and an extensive ultrasound.

Is this another example of a need to reset our collective moral compass?

Andrew Dawson, Sai Ying Pun