Telemedicine would help Hong Kong elderly on mainland to get diagnosis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 5:21pm

With the incident at a Tai Po nursing home where residents were left naked outside by staff, treatment of the elderly in Hong Kong reached a new low.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying rightly said that the city's shortage of land for building "was a key culprit in the poor treatment of residents at its homes for the elderly" ("CY blames elder abuse on city's land shortage", May 29).

What are we going to do when there are two million elderly citizens by 2041?

Hong Kong lacks the basic infrastructure to house, care and feed the elderly. Although many Hong Kong pensioners have found a more comfortable retirement arrangement in cities on the mainland, when they need medical care they must return to the SAR and eventually abandon their retirement plan in China.

One solution to this problem is the use of telemedicine. Hong Kong residents can retire to communities in southern China, but still be connected to the Hong Kong medical and paramedical services that they need. Telemedicine enables physicians to conduct medical examinations without either party leaving consulting room or home.

This can be done by having a properly trained technician dispatched to an elderly person's home with a briefcase containing medical equipment. The technician can help a physician sitting in their Hong Kong office to examine the ears, nose and throat, heart sounds, chest auscultation, ocular fundi, pulse and blood pressure. Telemedicine can provide high-quality medical care for retirees in mainland cities hundreds of miles away. It is already in widespread use in Japan.

Hong Kong must take a leading role in building retirement communities in mainland cities that are only a few hours away, where there are enough carers and sufficient land. The government should take the initiative, planning and funding the construction of basic infrastructure in these communities, such as satellite medical clinics that are linked to Hong Kong hospitals, specialists and general practitioners.

Then the private sector will follow by developing nursing homes and housing for senior citizens nearby. The cost of such projects will be a fraction of the cost if they were built in Hong Kong.

There is no excuse for the elderly in Hong Kong continuing to suffer embarrassment and loss of dignity. Land shortage is not an issue; what is at issue is the will of the government to act.

Dr Peter Ko, family physician, Vancouver, Canada,Fai Wong, advocate for the elderly, Chai Wan