Date
16 July 2019
A file photo shows the A&E department at Kwong Wah Hospital. Hong Kong's public hospitals are struggling to cope with demand, leading to long waiting times for patients. Photo: HKEJ
A file photo shows the A&E department at Kwong Wah Hospital. Hong Kong's public hospitals are struggling to cope with demand, leading to long waiting times for patients. Photo: HKEJ

Why HK will see more outward medical tourism

A post in a Taiwan chat group on the waiting times in Hong Kong public hospitals has gone viral online, fueling intense discussions on the state of public health systems in the region.

Citing a public notice dated Nov. 5, 2018, a netizen has pointed out that the waiting time at the radiology department at Hong Kong’s North District Hospital could be as long as 28 months for an ultrasound scan.

That was followed by mammography and breast imaging, for which women may have to wait for up to 27 months in the queue. 

“They would probably need a coffin before they get the service,” one commentator noted sarcastically on Baoliao Commune, a popular Taiwan discussion forum.

While the situation may have been exaggerated a bit, it is a well-known fact in Hong Kong that the waiting times for some specialist procedures in the city’s public hospitals could stretch into months, or in some cases, even years.

With healthcare in government hospitals heavily subsidized, people looking to avail medical services at low cost have a price to pay in terms of long periods in the queue, especially for major surgeries. 

The waiting times have led to a growing number of Hongkongers going to Taiwan on medical tourism jaunts, with the island’s hospitals known to offer faster treatment, at affordable price.

Over the years, Hong Kong people have become used to long queues and slow service at the city’s public hospitals.

The average queuing time for specialized medical service was 116 weeks, or 29 months, according to the Hospital Authority. The longest waiting time could go up to 166 weeks, or 41.5 months, which means nearly three-and-a-half years.

That said, it needs to be pointed out that Hong Kong has top-class healthcare, scoring over many jurisdictions in the region.

Compared to other cities in China’s so-called Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong is undoubtedly the best when it comes to the quality of its medical personnel. 

As China pushes stronger links among the Bay Area cities, some Hongkongers fear the 60 million people elsewhere in the neighborhood could end up pressuring Hong Kong’s resources and medical infrastructure further, undermining the interests of city’s own 7.4 million residents.

As of now, 90 percent of the medical service in Hong Kong is provided by the city’s public hospitals, which are known to be perfect except for the notorious waiting time. Private healthcare is also among the best in the world, but the service comes at a very steep price.

With people unable to get specialized medical treatment quickly at government hospitals and the private hospitals seen out of bounds due to cost factor, one can expect more and more Hongkongers to seek cheaper service elsewhere in the region.

Places such as Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan will reap more medical tourism benefits, as waiting times in Hong Kong hospitals could stretch even longer in the years to come.

– Contact us at [email protected]

RC

EJ Insight writer

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