HK can become medical-tourism hub
13 November 2009
China Daily - Hong Kong Edition
The standard of the Hong Kong medical services is at the forefront of the region.
In some specialized disciplines, Hong Kong is even at the world's pinnacle, said Dr. Kwong Kwok-hay, deputy medical superintendent of Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital (HKSH), which is one of the largest private hospitals in the territory located in the up-market Happy Valley district.
By employing these strengths, he said Hong Kong is in a very good position to become a medical tourism hub for people from the region and other countries to obtain medical services in the city.
"Hong Kong excels in the research and treatment of several areas such as liver transplantation, treatment of tumors, nasopharyngeal carcinoma and percutaneous coronary intervention," Kwong told China Daily.
"The reason is that there are many patients of these types in Hong Kong, prompting us to do more research in these areas and gaining far greater experience from treating such patients."
But given the high rent, operating cost and doctors' fees in Hong Kong, he said the city should focus on the above-mentioned high-end medical services, instead of such low-end services as general physical checkups and facelift services.
"It is said that some mainland people are becoming very well off. Like other wealthy people in the region, they can afford to pay for the medical services while staying in Hong Kong for two to three days," he said.
Earlier on, the Task Force on Economic Challenges identified six key economic areas in which Hong Kong enjoys a competitive edge, with education and medical services being two of them.
To advance the six industries, the government has decided to provide land for interested parties to build private hospitals and universities.
As far as the medical services sector is concerned, four sites in Wong Chuk Hang, Tseung Kwan O, Taipo and Lantau Island, respectively, are on tender for the purpose of building private hospitals.
In the hope of expanding its services, the HKSH intends to build a second 38-storey tower on its present site.
However, its plan was rejected and then rejected again on appeal by the Town Planning Board, who ruled that the new building should be no higher than 12 floors.
The HKSH is now awaiting the outcome of the judicial review action scheduled for January 2010, he said.
In the meantime, the HKSH has looked at the four sites, with a view to building a new hospital on one of them.
"The sites are far too remote from downtown," he pointed out. "As most of the HKSH doctors have clinics in Central district, live near here and their children are studying in this vicinity, you can't expect them to go to work in Taipo or on Lantau Island."
Located in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, the Wong Chuk Hang site is slightly more convenient than the other sites. At one stage, the HKSH had expressed an interest in it and commissioned a feasibility study of the site.
"It however turns out to be an infeasible site because it will be crossed by the future South Island Line rail link and be subject to a great deal of noise. It will involve a much bigger cost if we add on noise mitigation measures," he disclosed.
Since Hong Kong is in a shortage of private hospital beds, Kwong thinks it is a good idea to build more private hospitals to cater to the patients' needs. At present, there are no more than 4,000 private hospital beds, equivalent to merely 10 percent of the total number of hospital beds in Hong Kong.
The private hospitals in Hong Kong are always filled by local people, leaving very few beds available for the non-local people, he noted.
"As far as the private hospitals are concerned, the problem is not the lack of patients, but rather the shortage of beds," he complained. "And as we also do not have enough nurses, it is rather difficult to take the medical services sector forward in Hong Kong."
Kwong is nevertheless aware that sites are available in the urban areas for construction of private hospitals.
Among other things, he suggested old government hospitals that are under utilized may be redeveloped. Besides, the sites of secondary and primary schools that are closed due to insufficient students are suitable for construction of private hospitals.
Kwong went on to cite a number of problems the private hospitals are encountering in Hong Kong.
In case private hospitals want to bring doctors into Hong Kong from other countries, even if they are top-notch and well-known medical practitioners with strong expertise, they will need to wait for nearly a month before temporary licences are issued.
If the government and the medical schools of the two universities want to bring in doctors from overseas, the procedure is far easier and quicker, he noted.
Kwong also said that before 1997, doctors from the British Commonwealth countries of England, Australia and Canada could come to practise in Hong Kong without restriction.
But after the handover, doctors from those countries, even though they are top-notch doctors in their own right, have had to undergo examinations and assessments before they could practice in Hong Kong.
"This affects exchanges between our doctors and foreign doctors, as well as the standard of medical services in Hong Kong," he commented.