• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 9:19pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

A shot in the arm for the private medical sector

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 3:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 3:56am

Thanks to a heavily subsidised health care system, Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world where the sick do not have to worry about the cost when seeking treatment in public hospitals. The private sector, however, is a different story. Patients are often shocked when given the bill. This occurs because not only do private practitioners charge more but also the bill comes with an array of hidden charges that can add up to an astronomical amount. While the lack of transparency and predictability may not be an issue for the rich, it deters the price-conscious from using private hospitals, even if the cost is actually affordable.

After years of reform discussions, there is finally some good news. In a welcome move, the government intends to require by law that patients be told of the likely treatment cost in advance. This is a step in the right direction. The number of disputes over medical bills received by the Department of Health - 58 between 2008 and 2012 - calls for better regulation.

As long as it is affordable, most patients are willing to pay what it takes to regain their health. But that does not mean there is room for arbitrary charges. Transparency is essential. Ideally, fixed packages for different treatments should be introduced; and patients should be allowed to choose according to their budget. But in reality, health care is more complicated than ordering from a restaurant menu. Medical costs vary according to the experience of the doctor as well as the complexity of the treatment involved. Unforeseeable complications also require special treatment and hence incur additional cost. It makes sense, therefore, to consider allowing hospitals and doctors to give a price range instead of an absolute amount. To cater for exceptional situations, exemptions are also worth studying.

The proposed safeguards go beyond consumer rights. The current reliance on public hospitals stems partly from the lack of transparency and predictability in the private sector. If patients can better estimate their medical bills and shop around for services that suit their needs, more may feel comfortable about switching from the public sector. The enhanced transparency will pave the way for the long-awaited medical insurance scheme, which is a key part in the health reform process. The greater use of health insurance and private services by those who can afford them will, hopefully, reduce the burden on public hospitals and ultimately lead to better use of resources for those who are in genuine need of subsidised health care.


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When comparing with Singapore private hospitals, Hongkong private hospitals are charging much more but this premium does not mean a better or a higher standard of care. Private hospitals' charges are not transparent particularly on those sundry items and another absurd thing is doctors' fee varies according to the room type. To make it plain, private hospitals and doctors are simply making too much profit under an oligopoly structure. More competition should be introduced to keep the cost in check but to make it happen, it is essential to import medical staff and doctors from overseas and for sure the vested interest group will strongly oppose at the expense of public interest. Medical insurance can divert some patients from public to private but with more demands in a fixed capacity, the medical bill will increase fast and will soon become unaffordable even to some insured patients...
On needs to come to the US to see what a disaster for private healthcare and "for profit" (though majority of hospitals are non-profit or not for profit) healthcare is. Because of this, the healthcare system in the US mostly serves the interests of the healthcare providers (hospitals, physicians and ancillary providers), first and foremost, the patient comes next or last.
Well said. But the Medical Associations and other Allied Health groups will fight in the background to keep foreign help out. Or they will say they are recruiting and hire very few people as they have done in the past unless there is an independent watchdog with teeth to make the professional associations comply with hiring outside help.They are pure protectionists of the highest order.They will not do this unless they are forced to do so. They will give a million lame arguments against it.


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