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Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 16:51
Outside the box
By Peter Liang
Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 16:51 By Peter Liang

The rapidly aging population is aggravating the problem arising from the shortage of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers in public hospitals where the majority of Hong Kong people seek medical treatment.

These are problems that cannot be solved by throwing money to the public healthcare system. Building hospitals is not going to make much of a difference. In fact, there are wards in some hospitals that have remained unopened because of the staff shortage.

Increasing the intake of medical students at the two universities will certainly bring some benefits in the longer term. But that will do little in addressing the immediate problem of overcrowded hospitals that is putting an unbearable strain on the medical staff.

There have been talks about recruiting doctors and nurses from overseas. This proposal, however, has stirred a storm of controversy as doctors and patients are worried that it can lead to the decline in professional standard. Indeed, only a small percentage of foreign doctors seeking to practice in Hong Kong have passed the qualification test.

The combined problem of a rapidly aging population and the shortage of medical professionals is not unique to Hong Kong. Some other developed economies are relying on the internet to address the problem, and, in the process, are setting an example for others, including Hong Kong, to follow.

In the UK, for instance, a growing number of patients are attracted to the convenience of seeing a doctor online, according to a BBC report. There are no shortage of telemedicine app in the market. Doctor shortage in Asia is said to be fueling the rise of such app, including Halodoc, Doctor Anywhere and Ping An Good Doctor.

Hong Kong people are slow in warming up to the idea of online doctor. This should be changing when the waiting time to see a doctor at any public hospital is lengthening. Some doctors have said that the majority of patients waiting up to 8 hours to see a doctor suffer from minor ailments, such as common cold.

A survey by consultancy firm Accenture shows that nearly two-firths of Americans aged 22-28 seek routine medical services online. Another study estimates that the rising popularity of virtual healthcare can cut the need for doctors in the US by 50,000 in 2030.

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