In the Chief Executive’s Policy Address in late 2020 and the Financial Secretary’s 2021-22 Budget Speech, the Hong Kong government recognised the need to further enhance digital healthcare services in Hong Kong.
Digital Healthcare Initiatives from the Hospital Authority
In December 2019 the Hospital Authority launched its mobile application ‘HA Go’, a one-stop mobile platform designed to facilitate a patient’s healthcare journey. HA Go allows patients to do the following on their mobile phones and/or other smart devices:
- Book and check appointments;
- Pay Hospital Authority bills and drug charges;
- View medication and dispensing records for the past two years; and
- Access multi-media rehabilitation games and videos.
Only the last item constitutes e-healthcare, but it is a step forward in increasing efficiencies, and further developments are promised.
Digital Healthcare in Hospital Development
The Hong Kong government’s policy is to enable “smart hospitals” by promoting the wider use of new technologies in public hospitals . The Policy Address highlighted technologies being employed or piloted, which include location-based services and navigation technology in selected public hospitals and the Bed Booking System for Convalescent/Rehabilitation Beds and the Blood Taking Scheduling System in selected specialist outpatient clinics.
The new Chinese Medicine Hospital, which is targeted to commence operations by the end of 2024, is also expected to employ “smart hospital” technologies. The government is considering the hospital to have:
- Appropriate IT to support teleconsultations (i.e., audio and video conferencing) between patients and health professionals;
- Scheduling of appointments;
- Generation and documentation of clinical records; and
- Systems accessible through a web browser on a computer or mobile device.
According to a recent survey conducted in June 2020 by the Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies (APIAS) of Lingnan University, over 60% of the 638 senior citizens (aged 55 years or above) who were surveyed were willing to try teleconsultations when the relevant technology was fully developed, so there is clearly demand for this type of service. In the light of this while one should welcome that the government covered e-health in the Policy Address, it is a little underwhelming.
Although the government has stated its policy to prioritise the implementation of telehealth services in public hospitals, a gap remains between what healthcare services in Hong Kong could be and the situation as it stands. In our view, a more assertive government-led approach could accelerate the establishment of a more comprehensive legislative framework to encourage healthcare professionals to extend the use of telemedicine, perhaps following (and preferably building on) the example of Singapore’s National Telemedicine Guidelines that were issued in 2015. These guidelines, for example, encourage care to delivered exclusively by telemedicine where face-to-face consultation is not possible (on the basis that this is better than no access to healthcare at all) and there is no equivalent of this in the current Hong Kong framework.