Despite recent medical blunders hitting the headlines, Hong Kong’s healthcare system is in fact one of the best and most efficient in the world. The pressure is now on the Hospital Authority to recognise the importance of HealthTech in refining healthcare services and management.
It is well documented that the life expectancy of Hong Kong citizens is one of the highest in the world, with the current average life expectancy for women being 87 years and for men 81 years. There are many factors for this longevity including low smoking rates, healthy eating habits (Cantonese cuisine tends to use less fried food) and access to high quality, readily available and reasonably priced public healthcare.
The Legatum Institute, a London-based research institute released its 10th annual global Prosperity Index in November, a survey that ranks the most prosperous countries in the world. The organisation compares 104 variables to come up with its list, splitting those variables into nine sub-indexes. One of the big components of the ranking is how healthy a country’s people are.
Health is measured by three key components: a country’s basic mental and physical health, health infrastructure, and the availability of preventative care. The small city-state of Hong Kong, which has 11 private and 42 public hospitals to serve its population of just over 7.2 million people, came 7th in the global ranking of healthcare systems.
Not only is Hong Kong’s healthcare system considered one of the best in the world, it is also considered to be one of the most efficient healthcare systems. Bloomberg’s Health-Care Efficiency Index, which provides a ranking of the efficiency of health care in 55 of the world’s top countries, ranked Hong Kong’s healthcare system as the most efficient health care in the world for 2016.
According to Bloomberg, Hong Kong received an efficiency rating of 89.9 out of a possible 100. Singapore was ranked second with a score of 84.2.
What makes Hong Kong more “efficient” when it comes to health care? It can’t be the price. After all, many private hospitals in the city cost just as much, or more than those in the US (which is considered one of the more expensive healthcare systems globally).
Instead, it’s largely due to the three major metrics that are combined to develop the index and ranking. For its index, Bloomberg uses:
- Life expectancy – The average time a person in each location is expected to live.
- Relative health expenditure – The amount spent on healthcare in relation to the location’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- Absolute health expenditure – The average amount people spend on health care in each location. This is calculated by multiplying the relative health expenditure percentage by total GDP.
Looking at Hong Kong, the index reports that people are expected to live an average of 83.98 years, health care makes up 5.4% of the total GDP, and on average people will spend USD 2,021 per year on health care.
Compare this to the US where citizens have an average life expectancy of 78.94 years, health care makes up 17.14% of the total GDP, and people will spend an average of USD 9,403 on health care each year. The US has the highest relative health expenditure of any country included in the index. The higher the relative number, the more citizens will spend on medical care and the higher the cost of care, which could have an impact on the efficiency rating.
There are of course other factors that should be considered when assessing how effective Hong Kong’s healthcare system is. For example, while the public system here is without a doubt good, there can be long waiting times, and doctors rarely spend a great deal of time with patients due to a high case load. This can come across to some as inefficient and in fact a recent Hospital Authority (HA) review confirmed that due to the increasing demand on medical services, coupled with staff shortages, long waiting times were being experienced by patients.
Some of the challenges being faced by the HA could be alleviated by the adoption of new health technologies which streamline healthcare service provision and bring a more convenient, patient centered experience to consuming healthcare.
The recent HealthTech Asia 2017 event (part of the StartmeupHK festival) showcased both international and local HealthTech innovations that are being adopted to do just that.
A UK start-up, Now Healthcare Group, has developed an innovative mHealth (mobile health) solution called Now GP, that connects NHS-licensed doctors with patients via remote video calls using smartphones. For example, patients who are ill with a cold or flu can consult a GP whilst recuperating from the comfort of their home bed and, if any medication is required, this will be delivered to the patient’s home within 2-4 hours after the e-consultation.
Now GP is transforming how the UK as a nation accesses primary healthcare and is now Europe’s largest virtual GP service covering 1 million people.
HealthTech is also changing the way chronic diseases are being managed, which often require a more continuous interaction between the healthcare professional and patient. For example, Hong Kong-based Gather Health develops an App for better management of type 2 diabetes that is built on behavioral change theories to support self-management, facilitate patient–provider communication, and enable treatment changes between clinic visits. In a recent study of 91 patients, participants assigned to the Gather mHealth system had greater A1C reductions (a blood test that correlates with a person’s average blood glucose level) than those assigned to usual care.
Elderly patients often suffer from multiple chronic diseases and find it difficult to coordinate the various healthcare-related tasks that they or their caregiver need to manage. Acesome, another Hong Kong-based start-up, has developed a mobile Personal Care Plan that allows both the patient, caregiver and the healthcare professional to coordinate complex care plans (such as various treatment instructions, consultations & lifestyle changes) in an easy to use App.
The good news is that the HA has recognised the importance of adopting HealthTech innovations! In its Strategic Plan 2017-2022 the HA states that IT & Health Informatics is one of three enablers that will help transform the HA into the ‘Smart Hospital” of the future. In particular, the HA will explore the growing application of telecare, telemedicine and telemonitoring in the delivery of healthcare. Examples include the use of teleconsultation to residential care homes for the elderly, such as video conferencing by allied health professionals in the provision of dietetic advice, or for remote patient monitoring in terms of blood pressure or glucose levels. With the start-up ecosystem growing in Hong Kong one only hopes that the HA will be able to adopt home-grown healthtech innovations in its bid to continue to be one of the world’s best providers of healthcare.
Dr Karin Munasinghe came to Hong Kong in 2001 and has been working since then in the Bio / Health-Tech industries. She is also co-founder of the Hong Kong Chapter for the Healthcare Networking event (www.healthcaredrinks.com) and is part of the Diversity List, endorsed by the Zubin Foundation.