Study finds cost keeps nearly one tenth from seeing doctor in Hong Kong

Authors call for more transparent pricing in private sector

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 8:03am

Almost a tenth of Hongkongers have avoided seeing a doctor because they couldn’t afford it, a survey has suggested, challenging the conventional wisdom that the city’s subsidised public health system means no one misses out on care because of the cost.

“At first we assumed the number should be zero. We reckoned that no one should be deprived from medical care because of no money,” said Samuel Wong Yeung-shan, a lead author of the study and a professor of public health at Chinese University.

Of 2,236 people interviewed by Wong and his team from April 2014 to August last year, 186 – or 8 per cent – said they had avoided seeking treatment in the past year because of financial deprivation.

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They were more likely to be women, students or working in manual labour. But receiving government benefits was not found to be associated with being unable to get treatment.

Wong said the long waiting time in the public sector and unclear pricing in the private sector could stop people getting help.

For instance, during winter flu season, patients in some public emergency wards had to wait more than 10 hours for admission. Despite the long wait, the much cheaper public hospitals, which costs HK$100 for emergencies, could be one of the few affordable options for the poor. Private doctors cost at least double, but the exact bill can be much higher once medication fees are added.

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Wong suggested the private sector, which takes up half of the city’s health expenditure, should be more transparent in prices and services to give patients greater confidence.

“Those who can afford may go to private, and those who can’t afford may [be left with] more quota to use public services,” he said, adding that extra resources should also be added to public health care.

A Medical Association spokesman said many doctors already display price lists inside their clinics. But it is difficult, he said, to give exact prices to those receiving treatment at private hospitals, which charge differently according to specific time slots, duration and any unforeseeable complications care.

He said charges for private primary care doctors have been made more affordable, but are still affected by clinics’ rents.