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What is the difference between private and public healthcare in HK
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In Bloomberg's 2021 Most Efficient Health Care report, Hong Kong ranked first in having one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world. Undoubtedly, Hong Kong has developed a world class, international healthcare system as many of its doctors are fluent in English and have trained in top institutions. Hong Kong offers both high-standards public and private healthcare, and there are several differences between the two.

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An introduction to healthcare in Hong Kong

Like Singapore, one of the biggest differences between public and private healthcare in Hong Kong is how it is managed and financed.

Public healthcare

Public healthcare services are overseen by the Food and Health Bureau, as they are responsible for creating policies and allocating resources to sustain operations in health services. They ensure that the policies are executed effectively to provide holistic public healthcare to every citizen in Hong Kong, and to make sure that public healthcare remains highly accessible.

Under the bureau, public healthcare facilities are jointly managed by two key government organisations. The Department of Health oversees the management of public health while the Hospital Authority runs the management of public hospitals. As the Hospital Authority manages public hospitals, general out-patient clinics and special out-patient clinics in Hong Kong, the Department of Health is the government's health advisor to carry out healthcare policies and provide health services through health clinics and centres for the citizens of Hong Kong.

All clinics and medical personnel are grouped by region so that every district is fully ready for emergencies. Additionally, there are many maternal healthcare centres to provide specialised care and screenings for women and children.

While public healthcare in Hong Kong offers high quality services and excellent emergency and maternity care, the only area public healthcare does not cover is dental care. Public dentists are only available for emergencies, otherwise, treatment is sought at private dentists.

Private healthcare

Private healthcare in Hong Kong also offers hospital and primary healthcare services, which includes private hospitals, practitioners and private Chinese practitioners. To be recognised as private, one must be registered under the Medical Council of Hong Kong. Hong Kong boasts a wide selection of medical providers, from private hospitals to neighbourhood GPs, specialist clinics and laboratories across the country.

On the flip side, private hospitals are not equipped to handle medical emergencies. In the case of an emergency, patients are automatically transferred to a public hospital instead of a private one. The first and only private hospital that has an emergency section is Gleneagles, where they operate a 24 hour Outpatient and Emergency Department to provide round-the-clock emergency services.

Differences between private and public healthcare in Hong Kong

Cost

The key difference between public and private healthcare in Hong Kong is the cost of healthcare. In Hong Kong, public healthcare services can cost as little as under HK$200 as the government simply provides virtually free or heavily subsidised quality healthcare to those who meet the eligibility criteria. To give examples, general outpatient costs HK$50 and costs for accidents or emergencies are around HK$180 per attendance.

To be eligible for public healthcare, one must:

  • Be a holder of a Hong Kong Identity Card
  • A child of under 11 years old with a Hong Kong resident status
  • Other persons approved by the Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority

In fact, 53% of public healthcare expenditure was covered by the government, while 30% was contributed by households in 2019. For those who are unable to afford even after the subsidies, the government offers a fee-waiving process to ensure that no one is excluded from healthcare.

Conversely, private healthcare in Hong Kong exhibits extremely high medical costs. This is because private facilities offer additional, personalised options such as deluxe rooms and personalised doctors. Hence, private healthcare in Hong Kong can go up to more than HK$5,000 per day or visit.

While public healthcare costs remain consistent across all public hospitals and clinics, private healthcare is billed at market cost, and are set by individual hospitals and clinics. This creates an issue of non-transparency regarding pricing in private care, as it is near impossible to estimate the costs of the same package across different private hospitals.

Admission and patient care

Admission and patient care are the next key difference after costs in Hong Kong. For a while, the public healthcare sector has seen very little progress in the improvement of certain aspects. Problems such as very long admission periods, overcrowding and excessive bureaucracy have been prevalent. Additionally, as public healthcare in Hong Kong is overcrowded with long queuing times, one should not expect a patient-oriented level of service.

Medical personnel in public facilities are highly understaffed in Hong Kong, so staff tend to treat patients with a relatively straightforward attitude. Patients can also expect to see different doctors for each visit, making the level of familiarity with patients lower.

On the other hand, private care allows patients to choose their doctor, and it is far easier and more flexible to arrange appointments of your chosen time. Private facilities also operate with a patient-oriented mindset, where they can focus more on the patient’s comfort experience compared to public facilities.

Medical personnel

Hong Kong has one of the world’s best healthcare systems with top class services. Doctors in both public and private healthcare are fluent in English, and are able to tend to locals and non-locals alike. Majority of them are also graduates from top medical universities and institutions abroad or in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, TCM is also a world class health service. There are over 7,000 TCM practitioners registered in Hong Kong, and the registration criteria set by the government is strict to ensure that registered TCM practitioners are all highly capable in their field.

Facilities

Facilities in both the public and private sector are modern and technologically advanced. The only difference lies in the comfort levels. As the public sector is overworked, the level of comfort delivered to patients are not as luxurious as that of the private sector. Private hospitals and clinics offer even higher quality care in terms of luxurious rooms and personalised services, albeit at a much higher price. Additionally, the private sector is ahead in terms of digitalisation, as they make use of electronic records as an efficient means to seamlessly share medical history and provide patients with a smooth healthcare journey.

Do I need private health insurance in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has one of the most expensive healthcare services in the world. As not all expats might be eligible or prefer public healthcare in Hong Kong, getting private health insurance for private care is a more ideal option. Considering the extremely high costs of healthcare in the private sector, it is recommended to get an insurance plan that covers everything that you find necessary.

If you want to know more:

Find out about healthcare in Hong Kong or learn more about our medical insurance in Hong Kong that can help you cover the costs of care.

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