Hong Kong’s healthcare system has long been acknowledged for the professionalism of its practitioners, high-quality services, structured governance, and sound regulatory regime.
Much of this regulation, however, has been focused on the public health system. Recently we’ve seen the government bringing forward two important regulations aimed at the private sector – the Private Healthcare Facilities (PHFs) Bill and the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme (VHIS). These are encouraging steps, but there is certainly more that can be done in this area.
The PHFs Bill and the VHIS will hopefully establish greater transparency and clearer minimum standards in the private healthcare sector, and both are critical to a well-functioning market. However, the wider context of these initiatives highlights some concerning trends in the sector.
A recent research report released by Bupa found that Hong Kong people’s out-of-pocket expenditure on private healthcare more than quadrupled to over HK$43 billion between 1990 and 2014, and we project this figure will more than double by 2025 to over HK$94 billion. So the question is, what could or should be done to create a more consumer-focused private healthcare market that helps relieve pressure on the public healthcare system?
We believe transparency is vital in helping people make more informed decisions on healthcare, as well as significantly contributing in helping to manage costs and improve quality. We are not starting from scratch here but, as our report shows, Hong Kong is lagging behind comparable developed markets on this agenda. Countries such as Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Australia are making progress in publishing standardized and comparable data for consumers.
There are three core areas of transparency in our healthcare that need development – financial data, quality data, and real-life patient experience data. Getting the systems and processes set up to publish data around these three metrics would be a truly powerful development for Hong Kong’s private healthcare sector.
There are already a number of pockets of good practice in the market. Many private hospitals are joining international accreditation schemes, as well as breaking new ground in packaging the price of their services to be more standardized and comprehensive. Technology clearly also has a major role to play in helping drive this agenda forward, both in terms of improving back-office systems and processes, as well as giving each person more control over their healthcare information and wellbeing.
What we hope to see this year is both the VHIS and the PHFs Bill act as a stimulus for the sector to drive this agenda forward for everyone’s benefit – those who use private healthcare as well as those providing services within it.
The pressures on Hong Kong’s healthcare system as a whole aren’t going away, and it is up to us in the sector to demonstrate how we can play a role to ensure the long-term sustainability of healthcare in the city.
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