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Hong Kong healthcare: ins and outs

Hong Kong’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world with over 50 government hospitals and 12 private ones, many of which offer some of the most technologically advanced treatments and procedures. But it can still be something of a minefield for a new arrival in the city. We asked Dr Hans Schrader, executive medical director for Matilda International Hospital, one of Hong Kong’s longest established private hospitals, to answer some of the most common expat healthcare concerns.

Hong Kong Healthcare: Matilda Hospital

We just relocated from the UK. How does the quality of healthcare in Hong Kong compare to that of Western countries?

It’s comparable to that of the US and Europe. Doctors are either trained locally or overseas, and must do an internship in Hong Kong for at least a year before they can register as medical practitioners. They practise under the code of practice governed by the Hong Kong Medical Council. Most doctors are registered specialists with the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine and have to fulfil the continuous medical education requirements in order to renew their licences.

I suffer from back pain. If I want to see a specialist, do I need to see a GP first?

Strictly speaking, you can visit a specialist directly. However, back pain can be caused by poor posture, poor ergonomic set-up, a degeneration problem or other medical condition. A family doctor who is familiar with your medical history and lifestyle can help you investigate the root of the cause, prescribe the right course of treatment, or refer to you to an appropriate specialist.

My husband’s company offers our whole family health insurance but how do we find out which clinics and hospitals are covered by our scheme?

Insurance companies, in general, offer cashless and/or pay-and-claim medical policies. If the insurance company states that you have to obtain medical care under its network of clinics or hospitals, your husband’s company will give you a panel list or a member handbook for reference. Some policies may require you to get a referral letter from a family doctor before you seek a specialist for consultation. With a cashless arrangement, you do not need to pay for the consultation and general drugs, although special drugs or vaccines may not covered by the insurance policy. Get your husband to check with your company’s HR department.

I’m 18 weeks pregnant and we’ve just relocated to Hong Kong. I’m a bit concerned about the hospital care here. Can I visit the maternity ward before I make a booking? How do I make a maternity booking?

If you opt for private medical care, a few hospitals, Matilda International Hospital included, can arrange a tour where you can familiarise yourself with the environment, the facilities and the care offered. At MIH, patients are welcome to provide a birth plan and inform us of their breastfeeding preferences. Maternity bookings at MIH are made by the attending obstetrician who has admission privileges to practise at the hospital.The booking is confirmed as soon as a deposit is paid.

My son is behind on some of his recommended childhood vaccinations. Should he follow the vaccination schedule recommended in our home country or here? Are the vaccinations offered at the private hospitals?

If you only intend to stay here for a short time and plan to return to your home country, then it is better to follow your home country’s schedule. The government clinics offer a full schedule of childhood vaccinations, as do all private hospitals and most GP clinics. The hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all Hong Kong residents. Private hospitals and clinics offer additional vaccinations not included in the routine schedule such as chickenpox (varicella), rotavirus, pneumococcal, meningococcal and HPV.

I’ve just turned 40 and would like to get a full medical assessment. What tests do you recommend?

There are many health check programmes on the market. Don’t automatically choose the programmes with the most tests as some may not be appropriate for your age or lifestyle. For example, nasopharyngeal tumour is more prevalent in Asians. Often, screening outcomes are not all black-and-white, and there may be subtleties that need to be put into context of all the individual aspects of a person. Doctors will discuss any high risks identified with the patient at a follow-up consultation, and provide relevant information so patients can understand the findings better and make well-informed healthy lifestyle choices. Choose a medical facility where you can discuss your choice of programme with a doctor beforehand and the interpretation of the medical report afterwards.

We plan to travel around Southeast Asia while we’re living here. Where can I obtain travel information and get protection against certain diseases?

Travel information and health risk assessments can be obtained from a travel clinic, where the medical team can help identify the health risks specific to the particular region, such as hepatitis, malaria, typhoid or Japanese encephalitis. Travel clinics have a referenced information database with current information on countries and their diseases and risks. Some clinics provide this information online.

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