Due to ageing population and pandemic, the demand of healthcare service has been increasing all over the world. Many countries have been adopting telemedicine and developing related policies and regulations for it. Comparatively, the development of telemedicine in Hong Kong has fallen behind other countries and very limited clinics and hospitals provided telemedicine service.
Because of the convenience of healthcare provider location in Hong Kong, people get used to visit the healthcare professionals physically rather than doing it via telecommunication technologies. However, the recent outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has brought some impacts to customer behaviours in healthcare industry. During the pandemic, people would like to avoid visiting hospitals and clinics as much as possible even though they need to seek medical treatments or attend follow-up consultations. As a result, patients might want to opt for telemedicine service for mild diseases like flu, fever, diarrheas and emotion distress1.
Development of Hong Kong
According to the information on Legislative Council official website2, Hong Kong Hospital Authority (HA) has started teleconsultation since 1998 via video-conferences to replace the conventional geriatric outreach or clinic-based services for the Elderly staying in the Residential Care Homes. It has been more than 20 years, but HA still only provided very limited telemedicine service prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the emerge of COVID-19, HA finally launched its first mobile application “HA Go” in December 2019 in order to provide “one stop service” online. The available services include making new medical appointments for specialist consultations, checking all of the coming medical appointments with location instructions, contact information of the relevant healthcare providers, detailed allergy lists and medication lists. The patients are no longer overwhelmed with numerous appointments and medications that they are taking currently, while they are already suffering painfully and frustratingly from the diseases. The mobile application even shows the dosages of each medications for patients’ reference in case they forget. At the same time, patients can register for their appointment prior to the visit, then the application will sends notifications to the patients if it was their turns to see doctors or collect their medicines. The patients can also pay the consultation fee via the application, so they do not need to line up for both services and save much more time.
Other than that, the HA has expanded its telemedicine service for psychiatric patients and those who requires follow-up consultations. The healthcare professionals can conduct video-conferences with the patients for tracking their recovery progress.
“So, if the government has already started to develop telemedicine industry, why does Hong Kong still falls behind other countries?”
Low Awareness of Telemedicine
The awareness of telemedicine is quite low in Hong Kong due to inadequate promotions and incentives for people to adopt telemedicine. In general, people might not even know that telemedicine exists or might think that telemedicine is medical consultation solely via telecommunication while it actually provides a wide range of medical services combing both offline and online service like delivery of medication and issuance of doctors’ referral letters.
Lack of standardised regulations and guidelines
Secondly, there is lack of regulations and standardised guidelines to protect the rights of both patients and doctors and it prevents healthcare professionals from practicing telemedicine. The Medical Council of Hong Kong has published the “Ethical Guidelines on Practice of Telemedicine” in December 20193, however the document just briefly provides limited guidelines and suggestions for healthcare professionals. It is lack of specific details and standards on practicing telemedicine services. It leads to relatively low openness of healthcare professionals to adopt medical innovations for patient care. More well-organised and detailed guidelines should be established as soon as possible in order to reassure and encourage healthcare professionals to adopt new technology because it would involve the accuracy of diagnosis and legal responsibilities of healthcare professionals towards the patients.
Insufficient trainings and education
There are no sufficient trainings offered to the healthcare professionals on how they could possibly implementing telemedicine with proper procedures and acquiring critical skillsets of handling innovative technology. Besides, time and outstanding results would be essential for reassuring people of the capability and promising development of telemedicine.
Our promising future
However, the Hong Kong government has laid out its policy direction for encouraging the application of innovation and technology in the healthcare industry. The government will focus on improving the mobile application so that it will be able to cover more telehealth services in patient care. Meanwhile, the government will begin developing smart hospitals and smart wards by collecting real time data with mobiles and Internet-of-Medical-Things (IoMT) technologies. The government will also improves the big data analytics platform for conducting, collecting and analysing healthcare related researches and data.
To conclude, with the help from the government, the telemedicine market will keep on growing and its future is absolutely promising. What we need to do is understanding the market trends and new customer behaviours, we believe that we can become the lead of the market by providing more innovative solutions in the smarter ways.
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- “The Post-Covid New Normal: The Rise of Telemedicine“, by Alice Tsang on 24 Nov 2020 https://research.hktdc.com/en/article/NTkzOTE0MDg4
- “Development of telehealth services“, HKSAR Legislative Council Offical Website https://www.legco.gov.hk/research-publications/english/essentials-2021ise14-development-of-telehealth-services.htm#endnote2
- “Ethical Guidelines on Practice of Telemedicine“, Newsletter Issue No.26 of the Medical Council of Hong Kong