A myriad of plans are being mulled to deepen Hong Kong's medical services integration with those of Chinese mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, including extending the use of elderly healthcare vouchers and unifying training standards of healthcare professionals, Hong Kong Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau told China Daily in a recent interview.
These aims should not only benefit the great number of Hong Kong people living across the border, but are also vital for the enhancement of medical-services quality in the whole Greater Bay Area, Lo said.
John Lee Ka-chiu, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, rolled out a series of fresh medical initiatives in his first Policy Address on Oct 19. According to Lo, the HKSAR government will further expand the use of elderly healthcare vouchers to more clinics in mainland Greater Bay Area cities. Currently, eligible Hong Kong elderly people living in the area can use the vouchers to pay for outpatient services fees at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital. The pilot program kicked off in October 2015 and was regularized in June 2019.
Specifically, the program may be extended to two other clinics in Shenzhen. In addition, once the pandemic situation has improved, the government will visit more clinics in different GBA cities to explore the possibility of expanding the use of the healthcare vouchers for the elderly, Lo said.
Moreover, the government is studying the feasibility of allowing the vouchers to be used for settling payments of medical insurance premiums on the mainland, which was also mentioned in the Policy Address, Lo added.
Lo said that an increasing number of Hong Kong organizations are setting up medical institutions in the mainland cities of the GBA. The government will also study on how to better leverage these institutions to better cater to the needs of Hong Kong residents located there, Lo said.
Lo also considers the two affiliated hospitals under the School of Medicine of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, to be significant platforms, in addition to the HKU-SZ Hospital. Born out of an agreement inked by the Shenzhen municipal people's government, CUHK, and CUHK-Shenzhen in 2019, CUHK-Shenzhen's School of Medicine has a robust Hong Kong-related background. Its medical center is expected to officially open before Dec 31, 2026.
In terms of talent cooperation, Lo revealed that more healthcare professionals from Guangdong province will be introduced to Hong Kong to exchange for a period of time.
A large-scale nurse exchange program is being planned, with 70 Guangdong nurses being the first group to come to Hong Kong. A few traditional Chinese medicine practitioners on the mainland will also be invited.
The exchange programs are mutually beneficial, Lo said. They will provide professionals from Guangdong with a good opportunity to broaden their horizons and gain work experience, while also addressing the workforce shortage in Hong Kong's public healthcare system.
In terms of medical infrastructure, the government will ramp up efforts to integrate medical records, drugs, and devices with the Greater Bay Area.
Under a special program launched in 2020 to support Hong Kong residents seeking medical services at HKU-SZ Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, HKU-SZ Hospital was enabled to check patients' health records in Hong Kong hospitals, for the first time in history.
Hailing this move as a great breakthrough, Lo said the government will strive to further connect Hong Kong's Electronic Health Record Sharing System (eHealth) with the healthcare systems of other Greater Bay Area cities. The eHealth system is a citywide electronic platform for sharing the medical records of Hong Kong residents.
Lo also noted the importance of developing traditional Chinese medicines and promoting them to the international market. To this end, Hong Kong will also leverage its strengths and collaborate with mainland cities to drive the standardization of TCM.
Many people consider Chinese medicine to be a traditional practice, and compared with Western medicine, diagnoses for TCM are mainly based on experience rather than on fact and evidence. Making the TCM industry more standardized is key for its development and will help more people understand its value, Lo said.