Published: 09:26, April 15, 2024
PDF View
Regulatory framework needed to promote medical tourism in GBA
By Virginia Lee

The challenges posed by inadequate public dental care services and the high costs associated with private dental care services in Hong Kong are of great concern to residents. The limited availability and affordability of dental treatment are pressing issues that require immediate attention. As a result, an increasing number of individuals are turning to medical tourism on the Chinese mainland. The mainland offers more accessible and cost-effective dental care options, making it an attractive alternative for those seeking quality dental treatment at a more affordable price. The disparities between dental care provision in Hong Kong and the comparatively favorable conditions on the mainland necessitate a closer examination of the factors contributing to this phenomenon and the potential solutions to address the prevailing dental care dilemma in Hong Kong.

The oral health situation of older adults in Hong Kong is particularly worrisome, as evidenced by the high prevalence of dental caries and periodontal disease. Data from the 2011 oral health survey reveals that 48 percent of non-institutionalized older adults aged 65-74 had untreated dental caries, with an average of 1.3 decayed teeth per person. Despite most people in this age group having more than 20 functional teeth, tooth extraction was frequently employed as a treatment method among those in long-term care, leading to difficulties in chewing and overall oral function.

Recent studies have uncovered an unexpected correlation between individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and higher rates of periodontitis. This increase in periodontal disease appears to be unrelated to variables such as sex, age, body mass index, smoking habits and dental check-up frequency. Consequently, the presence of periodontal disease poses a significant risk, resulting in substantial oral health issues such as gum inflammation, gum recession, tooth loss and jawbone damage. Therefore, the need for intensive dental care management has become increasingly imperative following the pandemic.

These proposed initiatives, along with the development of supportive infrastructure and a comprehensive regulatory framework, will contribute to the growth of medical tourism and enhancing the region’s attractiveness to individuals seeking healthcare services

Considering the aforementioned information, opting for medical tourism to seek lower-cost dental care on the mainland emerges as a viable option. However, it is crucial to acknowledge and address several legal and safety concerns associated with this choice. A major legal concern relates to medical negligence. Different jurisdictions have different definitions of such issues. Therefore, disputes will arise from different acceptance of different dental procedures. Travel expenses and the lengthy legal process often hinder patients from pursuing complaints and legal actions, resulting in limited legal recourse. Another legal concern revolves around fraud and misrepresentation. Dental agencies may disseminate false or misleading information, particularly regarding safety, effectiveness, cost or advancements, leading to financial harm to patients. Overcharging and hidden fees may be prevalent as a consequence.

Moreover, medical tourism in dental care is not without safety concerns as different healthcare systems have varying standards for assessing outcomes and accepting complications in dental procedures. Additionally, ethical concerns arise from the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards, particularly regarding the trend of using braces among younger generations. Such treatments can generate social pressure to conform to new trends in beauty standards (for example, “braces face”), contributing to body image issues, low self-esteem, and negative mental health outcomes. Dental care providers must ensure that patients are fully informed about the advantages and disadvantages of these procedures. Furthermore, patients should have realistic expectations regarding the outcomes.

In light of these legal and safety considerations, individuals considering dental care through medical tourism on the mainland should carefully evaluate the potential risks and benefits, seek reputable and qualified providers, and engage in thorough research and informed decision-making processes.

To promote the growth of medical tourism in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, government officials can consider implementing various initiatives. These may include the establishment of official medical tourism support centers, offering training courses for non-mainland doctors to enhance their understanding of local healthcare systems, and creating official channels for lodging complaints against illegal or unethical practices. Furthermore, it is advisable to establish regulations aimed at ensuring the quality and safety of medical and dental services, particularly for non-residents. By doing so, the GBA can position itself as a major player in the global medical tourism industry, offering advanced medical technologies, skilled healthcare professionals, and cost-effective dental and medical services. These proposed initiatives, along with the development of supportive infrastructure and a comprehensive regulatory framework, will contribute to the growth of medical tourism and enhancing the region’s attractiveness to individuals seeking healthcare services. This, in turn, has the potential to yield significant economic and healthcare benefits for the GBA.

The author is a solicitor, GBA lawyer and China-appointed attesting officer.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.