The Fragrant Harbor boasts of one of the best healthcare systems across the globe, which is on par with, if not better than, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and a number of other developed nations. In fact, the island’s healthcare is often regarded as the ultimate safety net by numerous foreigners who have worked and lived in this country for a fair period of time, mainly because of the strong sense of security it offers them.Like most other places, the City of Life has a Public as well as a Private medical sector. The two differ to some extent in terms of quality and price. Most of the locals and a number of foreigners are quite comfortable using public healthcare. Government hospitals are open to all citizens and cost the authorities only about 3% of the total GDP. Many expats prefer opting for private services, which are slightly better and have shorter waiting times. Both the sectors together bring the country’s total healthcare expenditure to about 6% of the GDP, which is a lot lower than most other nations.
The entire medical system in the Pearl of the Orient is quite similar to other nations, and yet different in so many ways. In order to effectively maximize the facilities that have been provided to the residents, it is important for you to be well versed with the manner in which the system works. Even the locals will admit that the eligibility criteria, procedures and paperwork can be a bit difficult to get your head around, especially if you are an outsider. Of course, you will get familiar with things over a period of time; nevertheless, it is best to get as much information as possible from reliable sources.
Read on to learn nine important things you need to know about healthcare in Hong Kong, before you become a part of the local system.
Network of hospitals
The main regulators of Public healthcare include the Food & Health Bureau, the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority. These bodies are collectively responsible for the management of public health and hospitals all across the country.
The Hospital Authority of Hong Kong manages more than 40 public hospitals and institutions, along with 48 specialist out-patient clinics and 74 general out-patient clinics, bringing the total up to over 160. These have been divided, according to their location, into 7 clusters, which help maintain a fairly high standard of care across the area all throughout a patient’s treatment.
The island is also home to 12 private facilities, which have been internationally accredited by the recognized bodies in the UK and work in partnership with British medical companies to maintain a high standard of services. Moreover, the Department of Health monitors all the private hospitals and clinics that are registered with the Medical Clinics Ordinance. This entity carries out thorough inspections on a regular basis, to make sure that the facility adheres to all the national regulations and handles customer feedback effectively.
In case of an emergency, an ambulance is likely to take you to a state-run hospital, where the treatment is guaranteed, even if you are a foreigner. All patients are billed for using emergency services. Many expats choose to move to a private hospital once their condition is a bit more stable.
For a more detailed understanding of how the local network functions and which entities are responsible for specific services, visit the government’s website. You can also access complete lists of various facilities through this site.
Expertise of medical professionals
The doctor to patient ratio in Hong Kong is relatively low. Data show that the country has only about 1.7 doctors for every 1,000 people. Of the existing medical workforce in the public system, only a small percentage of the medics have received their qualifications from overseas. This is primarily because the Medical Council has placed certain barriers on the employment of foreigners. Many private practitioners have earned their degrees in the US or other western nations. It is very easy to find specialists of traditional Chinese medicine; there are more than 6,000 of them across the island.
In spite of the limited numbers, the medical professionals in the public sector also tend to be more productive and are a bit happier in general.
While you may be able to consult English-speaking doctors and nurses in private facilities, communicating with some of the practitioners in government hospitals may be a challenge if you don’t know the local language. It may be best to contact your consulate for a list of doctors who can speak your language.
A person residing in Hong Kong has to meet certain criteria in order to be “eligible” for low-cost public healthcare. People who can make full use of state-run services include:
– A holder of a Hong Kong Identity Card, which has been issued under the Registration of Persons Ordinance
– A child below the age of 11 years, with a local residency status
– Any person who has been approved by the Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority
If you do not meet any of the requirements mentioned above, you will be classified as “non-eligible” for public healthcare by the official authorities. This means that you can be treated at a state-run hospital but will not be given the benefit of paying subsidized rates.
Do keep in mind that the amount you pay for public healthcare is 4 to 5 times more if you are not eligible for it. You may therefore want to consider getting a health insurance plan to offset some of your medical expenses.
The cost of healthcare
Like in most other places, you pay a lower amount if you utilize Hong Kong’s public healthcare. A visit to an outpatient facility generally costs approximately HK $ 100 (US $ 12.90; £ 10.58; € 12.12), including an emergency visit. There may be an extra charge of HK $ 10 (US $ 1.29; £ 1.06; € 1.21) for any medication that you require. The usual price for a night’s stay in a general ward is HK $ 100 (US $ 12.90; £ 10.58; € 12.12); however there will be an admission fee of HK $ 50 (US $ 6.45; £ 5.29; € 6.06). These rates only apply to those who are eligible to receive low-cost public health services. People who are not covered may end up paying more than 4 times that amount.
If a resident is not in a position to pay the moderate charges of a public hospital, the government offers them a fee-waiving mechanism. This way, no one is excluded from healthcare because of financial constraints. This benefit is also available to non-residents, like tourists.
Private healthcare is predictably a lot more expensive, since it is of higher quality and the wait times are much lower. Many expats therefore prefer to use private healthcare. In such instances, it is best to sign up for a private health insurance plan so that your medical expenses can be covered.
Expats who relocate to the City of Lights for professional purposes are generally given health insurance by their employers. However, if this is not the case and you are not eligible for public healthcare or are planning to use the country’s private medical services at your own cost, you are likely to rack up a huge bill every time you visit a doctor. You should therefore seriously consider signing up for a private health insurance cover.
There are several well-reputed international insurance companies across Hong Kong and each of them offers a variety of plans at competitive rates. Any plan that you sign up for within the country will cover you for inpatient hospitalization. Even though most inpatient situations are included in these plans, there may be a few sub-limits to consider.
The programs offered by private companies can generally be tailored to suit your needs. However, the higher the coverage you receive, the more you are likely to pay in terms of your premiums. You can also lower your costs by adjusting categories you don’t think you will need.
Overall health and life expectancy
The residents of Hong Kong are regarded as some of the happiest and healthiest people in the world. Factors like early health education, a well-developed medical system, and professional services of high quality have ensured that the people of this country enjoy good health and a great overall life expectancy, which is the second highest in the world. The average life expectancy is 85 for the female population and 78 for the male population. The infant mortality rate is 2.8/1000. These figures show that the healthiness of this state is much better than the US, for example.
There is no denying that Hong Kong’s public healthcare system features fairly high medical care standards at a low cost. At the same time, it is also facing a number of growing challenges, which may eventually render the model unfeasible in the long run. Some of the most common problems to have an adverse impact on the system include:
Unstable funding – The government denotes about 17% of its revenue for subsidizing public healthcare and this figure is increasing every year. In fact, it rose by 50% from 2010 to 2015. The estimated future costs do not seem sustainable.
Ageing Population – Like many other Asian countries, Hong Kong is seeing a decline in the number of people within the younger age brackets. The ratio of the working population (between the ages of 16 and 64) to the senior citizens (65+) is 6:1 and looking at the trends, this is expected to go further down to 3:1 by 2033.
Waiting times – Because most services are offered at reasonable prices, public hospitals tend to get overcrowded. Patients often have to wait for days or get their appointments rescheduled if they aren’t experiencing an emergency. People suffering from time-sensitive illnesses are also usually given priority.
Expensive medical technology – The equipment, procedures and processes through which healthcare services are delivered come at a very high cost. The more advanced and effective medical technology gets, the more it is likely to cost. While the country boasts of modern facilities, their technology needs to be updated constantly.
These are just some of the most common concerns faced by the people and the authorities.
Even though there have been a couple of outbreaks in the area over the last few decades, health conditions across Hong Kong are quite good. Travelers are at low risk of contracting an infectious disease, and therefore do not require any vaccine for entry (unless they are traveling to the mainland or elsewhere).
Yet people are advised to exercise the usual precautionary measures during their stay. Those who spend a significant amount of time outdoors should apply a mosquito repellent to avoid getting bitten. They are also strongly advised to consume hygienic food and water.
Hong Kong has an abundance of registered allopathic pharmacies and you can easily recognize them by the red-and-white cross sign they bear outside. A number of medications can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription. However, it is the customer’s responsibility to select the right brand and check the expiry date. In fact, many people purchase the regular over the counter medicines and even birth control pills from the big stores.