University of Hong Kong’s Shenzhen hospital set for pricing revamp

New head Lo Chung-mau says financially troubled institution will offer more treatment packages and should start paying off its debts from 2018

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 12:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 12:02am

The financially troubled hospital in Shenzhen run by the University of Hong Kong is set for an overhaul of its pricing policy by offering more treatment packages, the newly appointed hospital chief said in an interview with the Post.

Veteran liver transplant specialist Professor Lo Chung-mau, who will take charge of the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital in mid-November, also clarified that he would serve at Queen Mary Hospital for a further five years.

“I hope the [Shenzhen] hospital can build up trust between patients and medical staff. If the patients know doctors are not looking for money when they treat illnesses, trust can be built,” Lo said as he explained his hopes for the Shenzhen hospital.

If the patients know doctors are not looking for money when they treat illnesses, trust can be built
Professor Lo Chung-mau

Under his plan, the medical packages on offer would increase significantly from the current 10 surgical procedures to 50.

Lo said the mainland pricing culture had led to poor health care practices which damaged patients’ trust in doctors.

Self-financed mainland hospitals often come with much unnecessary treatment and medication such as antibiotics or intravenous injections given the unreasonably low prices for individual items.

The introduction of price packages at the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital would not only give greater assurance to patients but also improve the hospital’s finances, he said.

For example, the hospital is offering surgery to remove a gall bladder at a package rate of 11,000 yuan (HK$12,580), meaning everything including care for complications is covered. It is up on the previous charge of 8,000 yuan, but still lower than the average 12,000 to 15,000 yuan in other Shenzhen hospitals.

“We can earn more if we achieve progress in price reform. If we can treat more patients, we can repay [hospital debts] more quickly,” Lo said.

The teaching hospital with 2,000 beds was built by the Shenzhen government but is operated by the university. But since its opening in 2012, it has owed the university at least HK$ 600 million for operations including payment to HKU experts.

Lo said the university would start recovering the hospital’s debts from 2018 onwards and hopefully they would be cleared by 2023.

The financial problem has hampered the hospital’s aim to offer advanced and expensive services like organ transplants, which Lo wants to launch in a year’s time when its finances have improved.

Lo hopes his plans can influence other mainland hospitals: “If there isn’t reform in pricing and finance, China’s medical reform won’t succeed.”

He also said a culture of trust between doctors and patients should be extended to other hospitals on the mainland.

Lo, a top member of the city’s only liver transplant team, was previously reported to be leaving Queen Mary Hospital to take up his new job. But he clarified that he would not step down immediately as head of surgery at the university and Queen Mary Hospital.

The doctor said he would continue to serve the university and the Hong Kong hospital until he retires in 2021. He said he would still spend 25 hours a week in Hong Kong and another 45 at the Shenzhen hospital.

He added that the Hong Kong liver transplant service, currently supported by eight doctors, should not rely on him alone.

“If the service is affected without me, it is a failure,” Lo said.

He said the Shenzhen hospital, 5 to 10 per cent of whose doctors come from Hong Kong to provide training in various specialities, should not be seen as competing for manpower resources with the city.

“Staying in Hong Kong to serve local patients is not the only way for our doctors to develop their skills,” he said.