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Exploring telemedicine in Hong Kong

Technology has vastly improved the medical industry. From insurance apps that allow you to quickly access and manage your plan information to electronic medical record systems that can all but eliminate the need to keep paper records to robotic instruments that have greatly improved the outcomes of complex surgeries, there is little in the industry that technology has not improved. When it comes to patient care, technology has played a major role in revolutionizing the way care can be delivered. One increasingly popular example of this is telemedicine. The question is, what exactly is telemedicine and how can people in Hong Kong use it?

What is telemedicine?

Since its inception in the early 90s, telemedicine has grown to encompass a wide-ranging definition that essentially covers all types of medical care that is carried out via telecommunications systems. This can be something as simple as calling a doctor in another city for a second opinion to something complex such as a renowned surgeon operating on a patient using robotic systems they control from another country or hospital.  

Individual Health Insurance Plans

Generally speaking, telemedicine is divided into three different types of telemedicine commonly used around the world.

  1. Store-and-forward – Involves the practice of acquiring medical data and then storing it on a system that is then made accessible to medical professionals at any time. Some of the most common users of this system are primary care physicians who refer someone to a specialist. The primary care physician records your medical data into an online system that is then forwarded to a specialist to review at a later date.
  2. Remote monitoring – Also referred to as ‘self-monitoring‘, this type of telemedicine allows doctors and medical staff to monitor medical data that is generated by a patient. This is becoming increasingly popular with doctors treating chronic conditions e.g., tracking the health, location, and other pertinent information of patients with dementia.  
  3. Interactive services – Also referred to as ‘real-time‘, this type of telemedicine is arguably the most common and well-known. With interactive services, patients can consult with a doctor via technology without having to set foot in a doctor’s office. Doctors can review medical information, diagnose conditions and in some cases even prescribe medication all digitally.  

Worldwide, telemedicine has become big business and is expected to increase at near exponential levels in the near future. For example in early 2016, P&S Market Research estimated that, “The global telemedicine market was valued at $17,878.7 million in 2015, and it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.7% during 2016 – 2022”. On a more regional basis, Enterprise Innovation recently reported that, “the telehealth market in the [APAC] region, which includes telemedicine, remote patient monitoring (RPM) and mobile health (mHealth), was estimated to reach $1.79 billion in 2020 from $1.02 billion in 2015, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 percent.”  


How are people using it in Hong Kong?

On the consumer side, telemedicine is still an emerging technology in Hong Kong that has yet to see large adoption. For example, it is not overly common to see doctors using video and chat services to consult with patients online. In fact, we were hard-pressed to find any Hong Kong doctor offices advertising this service.

Zoom out a bit, however, and it is easy to see that doctors are indeed using telemedicine. Many offices in Hong Kong utilize at least some form of Store-and-forward system to help generate referrals and share patient medical records between primary doctors and specialists. We have also seen cases where doctors are remotely monitoring patients and even telecommuting with patients.

One interesting thing to note is that, while we have not seen a heavy adoption of telemedicine with Western medical care, there are a number of Traditional Chinese Medicine providers in Hong Kong who offer online consultations. You can call, video chat, or even email Hong Kong-based professionals who will establish a treatment plan for you and if necessary compile a herbal “prescription” that they will then deliver to you. Of course, if you need physical care such as acupuncture this may not be the best platform, but it could be beneficial for followers of Chinese Medicine.

While locally telemedicine is still emerging, it has become incredibly popular in many parts of the Western world with countries like the US, Canada, and Australia all seeing increased use, especially in rural areas where care may be harder to reach. It has also become a major component in the development of care in developing countries. As such, many expats who come over to Hong Kong have been known to use telemedicine technology to consult with their primary doctors in their home country.


Be aware of this if you are going to use interactive doctor services in Hong Kong

When it comes to interactive services, and consulting with doctors outside of Hong Kong it is important to be aware that some of the services offered e.g., the issuing of prescriptions and recommendations for specialists likely won’t be available. This is largely due to the fact that many pharmacies will only accept prescriptions that have been issued in Hong Kong.

If you do consult with a doctor overseas and are recommended a prescription, you will likely have to visit a doctor here in Hong Kong in order to obtain this prescription, or something similar to it. The same goes for specialist referrals, with some health care providers you may need a referral from a doctor based in Hong Kong before you can book an appointment with a specialist.


How does telemedicine link with health insurance?  

Because telehealth is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, many insurers are now starting to look into ways they can incorporate this service into their plans. For example, some insurers in the US and even Singapore have launched consultation services linked with certain insurance plans. If you install the provider’s app and have a relevant plan, you can consult with a doctor directly from your phone or browser.

When it comes to actually receiving care, some providers will cover telemedicine consultations, but this will vary depending on the provider and type of plan secured. Other providers offer telehealth-related services for group plans where members can contact health experts for help on planning meals, exercise routines, and even questions regarding medical care and diagnosis.

If you are planning on utilizing telemedicine services, it would be a good idea to consult with Pacific Prime before doing so, as we can advise on whether any medical care or diagnosis received over telecommunications will be covered by your plan. Contact our experts today to learn more.

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Jess Lindeman