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Does Hong Kong have an efficient healthcare system?

If you are an expat moving to Hong Kong, you will eventually need to visit a doctor in the city-state. If and when you do need to see a doctor, there is certainly no shortage of choices. You have public and private hospitals spread throughout the city, clinics on nearly every corner, and not to mention the nearly omnipresent Traditional Chinese Medicine clinics. What’s more, many of these doctors are highly trained – either in Hong Kong or overseas – and able to offer care in English too.

With this high concentration of medical care in the city, the question many expats ask when moving here is whether the city has an efficient healthcare system. To find out the answer, this article by Pacific Prime Hong Kong looks at the healthcare system (in terms of its global rankings) and discusses what this means for expats in the city-state.

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Healthcare system efficiency ranked

In 2018, Bloomberg introduced the Bloomberg Health-Efficiency Index, which provides a ranking based on the healthcare efficiency of 56 of the world’s top economies. Since the inception of the report, Hong Kong, and indeed many other locations in Asia have been ranked quite high. In fact, for most of those years, Singapore and Hong Kong have been trading spots as the locations with the most efficient healthcare within the Asia-Pacific region.

Interestingly, Hong Kong was ranked as the location with the most efficient healthcare in the world, for 2018 at least. According to Bloomberg, Hong Kong received an efficiency rating of 87.3 out of a possible 100. Singapore was ranked second with a score of 85.6.

When looking at the top 20 of this index, six Asian nations at the time were included. For example, South Korea and Japan were ranked 5th and 7th respectively, and China ranked 20th.

While not part of Asia-Pacific, the UAE, which Pacific Prime believes to be a major trendsetter for international health insurance, was ranked 10th.

On the other hand, the US which we found to be the most expensive location for health insurance in our annual 2019 Cost of Health Insurance report was ranked 54th. This brings up an interesting conundrum regarding Hong Kong’s healthcare efficiency.

What makes healthcare in Hong Kong so efficient?

The ranking of the US brings about an interesting question: What makes Hong Kong more “efficient” when it comes to healthcare than the US? It can’t be the price. After all, many private hospitals in the city cost just as much, or more than those in the US.

Instead, it’s largely due to the three major metrics that were combined to develop the index and ranking. For its index, Bloomberg used:

  • Life expectancy – The average time a person in each location is expected to live.
  • Relative health expenditure – The amount spent on healthcare in relation to the location’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Absolute health expenditure – The average amount people spend on healthcare in each location. This is calculated by multiplying the relative health expenditure percentage by total GDP.

With the three metrics being weighed: 60%, 30%, and 10% respectively.

In addition, the index reported that people are expected to live an average of 78.39 years, while healthcare makes up 7.78% of the total GDP, and on average people will spend USD $2,279 per year on healthcare.

Conversely, in the US, citizens have an average life expectancy of 78.7 years, healthcare makes up 16.8% of the total GDP, and people will spend an average of USD $9,536 on healthcare each year. The US has the highest relative health expenditure of any country included in the index. The higher the relative number, the more citizens will spend on medical care and the higher the cost of care, which could have an impact on the efficiency rating.

The reason Hong Kong’s relative numbers are lower than many other countries is primarily due to the extensive subsidization of public healthcare carried out by the government. The government also actively manages the healthcare industry, which when taken into account by the index makes the healthcare system rank more efficiently. This is also seen in countries with similar statistics and management styles like Singapore and South Korea.

What does this mean in terms of health insurance?

Is Hong Kong’s healthcare efficient? Yes, especially when looking only at the factors included in the Bloomberg index. But you do have to take this index with a slight grain of salt, however, as the index only uses a few metrics. For true efficiency, you need to look at more. For example, while the public system here is without a doubt good, there can be long wait times, and doctors rarely spend a great deal of time with patients due to a high caseload. This can come across to some as inefficient.

What’s more, the actions taken by the government also likely offset the higher cost of care at private hospitals. As we stated above, a higher cost of care will likely lead to a slightly lower efficiency rating.

That said, private hospitals and clinics all offer a high standard of care, along with generally short wait times and highly trained doctors. Together, these factors lead to an efficient system for the user. The problem is, you are going to have to pay to access the private system, which can be expensive.

This is where health insurance, especially international plans, come in. They help residents in Hong Kong, as well as medical tourists that come to the city, gain access to the private system by covering some or all of the cost. If you are looking to take advantage of the private healthcare system in Hong Kong, it is advisable to secure a robust health insurance plan.

Still curious about Hong Kong’s healthcare system? Discover more about the healthcare system in Hong Kong with our informative overview or talk with the team at Pacific Prime Hong Kong today to learn more about your options.

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Jess Lindeman