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The healthcare system in Hong Kong: An informative overview

One of the most crucial things to think about as an expat moving to, or living in Hong Kong is, undoubtedly, how to go about accessing its healthcare system. In this vibrant metropolis you’ll find that there are many quality healthcare options available from both the public and private systems, and be rest assured that the healthcare infrastructure holds worldwide recognition for its efficiency and reliability.

In fact, Hong Kong was ranked number one by Bloomberg for its position as the country with the most efficient medical care system in the world in 2018. The commendable accessibility of quality medical care in Hong Kong also has a major role to play when considering the longevity of Hong Kongers, who have one of the longest average life expectancies in the world.

Of course, Hong Kong’s healthcare system is not without its flaws, and a number of medical infrastructure challenges do exist here, just like they would in any other country or state. To help uncover some key information on healthcare and health insurance in the city-state, we’ve created this informative overview of Hong Kong’s healthcare system.

Individual Health Insurance Plans

Should I go public or private?

One of the first things you’ll want to consider when in need of a medical service is, of course, which facility you would like to seek treatment from. There are pros and cons to both the public and private healthcare systems, and the ideal choice for you will depend on your own budget requirements and preferences.

The public healthcare system

The heavily subsidized public system ensures that everyone who meets the eligibility requirements has access to essential healthcare, regardless of their financial means. It is managed by the Hospital Authority (HA), which is a statutory body providing public hospitals and related services to the citizens of Hong Kong. The HA offers essential medical treatment and rehabilitation services to patients through hospitals, day hospitals, specialist clinics, general outpatient clinics, Chinese medicine services, and community outreach services.

The public sector consists of 43 public hospitals and institutions (around 28,000 beds), as well as 49 specialist outpatient clinics and 73 general outpatient clinics organized into 7 hospital clusters.

Click here for a list of public hospitals, outpatient clinics, Chinese medicine centers, and locations of other public health services.

The pros

The advanced quality of medical care coupled with very affordable rates are both major reasons behind why the public system is so attractive to the majority of Hong Kong Identity Card (HKIC) holders. For example, the cost of availing general out-patient services starts at just HKD $50; and public accident and emergency fees are only HKD $180 per attendance. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the public system provides 90% of all in-patient bed days.

Table of public charges for eligible persons

Service

Fee (HK Dollar)

Accident & Emergency

$180 per attendance
Inpatient (acute general beds)

$75 admission fee, $120 per day

Inpatient (convalescent / rehabilitation, infirmary & psychiatric beds)

$100 per day

Specialist outpatient (including allied health clinic)

$135 for the 1st attendance, $80 per subsequent attendance, $15 per drug item

General outpatient

$50 per attendance

Dressing or injection

$19 per attendance

Psychiatric day hospital

$60 per attendance

Geriatric day hospital

$60 per attendance

Rehabilitation day hospital

$55 per attendance

Day procedure and treatment at Clinical Oncology Clinic or Renal Clinic

$96 per attendance

Day procedure and treatment in an ambulatory facility

$195 per attendance

Community nursing service (general)

$80 per visit

Community nursing service (psychiatric)

Free

Community allied health service

$80 per visit

Source: Hospital Authority – Amendments effective 29/01/2020

The cons

The public system in Hong Kong has become increasingly overburdened, resulting in infamously long waiting lists and waiting times for a majority of services. As of writing, A&E waiting times vary from around 1 hour (Ruttonjee Hospital) to over 3 hours (Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital).

Lack of doctors

The primary challenge faced by the public health system is the lack of doctors. In 2018, doctor to patient ratio in Hong Kong stood at 1:519, according to statistics from the Department of Health (DH) in Hong Kong. This is low given the city-state’s status as a medical hub within the region.

According to LaingBuisson, public hospitals provide services to 90% of inpatients in Hong Kong, while only employing 51% of the local doctors. This percentage of local doctors looks to decrease in 2020 due to the fact that the public health sector loses doctors regularly to the private sector. Doctors are lured by the promise of better pay, working hours, and working conditions in the private sector system.

This could prove fatal to the future of public health and its ability to provide high quality and safe medical care. A comprehensive healthcare manpower review by the Food and Health Bureau projected a shortfall of 1,007 doctors by 2030 if Hong Kong maintains its current level of service.

Short-term expats are not eligible

What’s more, it’s important to note that not everyone gets to enjoy the attractively low hospital charges available to “eligible persons”.

In fact, many short term expats (non-eligible persons) will find themselves subject to different public charges, which can be alarmingly expensive compared to the costs charged in your home country. If you’re not covered by a subsidy, either because you’re in Hong Kong for a short trip or you’re not sponsored for a visa, then an accident and emergency visit will set you back by HKD $1,230 per attendance, and a visit requiring intensive care will jump to HKD $24,400 per day.

Table of public charges for eligible persons

Service

Fee (HK Dollar)

Accident & Emergency

$1,230 per attendance
Inpatient (general hospitals)

$5,100 per day

Inpatient (psychiatric hospitals)

$2,340 per day

Intensive care ward/unit

$24,400 per day

High dependency ward/unit

$13,650 per day
Nursery

$1,340 per day

(Obstetrics package charge)

For booked cases, includes one antenatal checkup, delivery/delivery care service; and

three days (two nights) hospitalization in a public general ward related to the delivery/delivery care service

$39,000

(Obstetrics package charge)

For non-booked cases or patients who have not undergone any antenatal checkup provided by HA during the pregnancy concerned, includes delivery/delivery care service; and three days (two nights) of hospitalization in a public general ward related to the delivery/delivery care service

$90,000

Specialist outpatient (including allied health clinic)

$1,190 per attendance

General outpatient

$445 per attendance
Dressing or injection

$100 per attendance

Day procedure and treatment for Haemodialysis at a Renal Clinic/Centre or other ambulatory facilities

$3,000 per attendance (Chronic), $6,000 per attendance (Acute)

Day procedure and treatment at Clinical Oncology Clinic

$895 per attendance

Day procedure and treatment at Ophthalmic Clinic

$725 per attendance

Day procedure and treatment in an ambulatory facility

$5,100 per attendance

Psychiatric day hospital

$1,260 per attendance
Geriatric day hospital

$1,960 per attendance

Rehabilitation day hospital

$1,320 per attendance

Community nursing service (general)

$535 per visit

Community nursing service (psychiatric)

$1,550 per visit

Community allied health service

$1,730 per visit

Source: Hospital Authority – Amendments effective 29/01/2020

Considering the drawbacks associated with the city’s public system, an increasing number of expats and locals alike are choosing to avail the private system instead.

The private healthcare system

With a total of 12 registered hospitals, the private sector offers all kinds of amenities and has witnessed an increase in demand locally, as well as from Mainland Chinese patients looking to take advantage of the luxurious perks and short wait times offered by private facilities.

Click here for a list of private hospitals that are registered under the Hospitals, Nursing Homes, and Maternity Homes Registration Ordinance (Cap. 165).

To ensure that private hospitals are at the highest standards, the DH monitors the compliance of private hospitals with relevant regulations by conducting comprehensive inspections. In addition, the DH handles medical incidents and complaints lodged by the general public against private hospitals and their subsidiaries in the sector.

The pros

Private sector hospitals in Hong Kong are truly world-class, with some hospitals even providing patients the option of ordering 5-star hotel meals to be delivered straight to their hospital beds. Private rooms with your own TV, “VIP suites” with a balcony overlooking the city, and à la carte meals are just a select few of the myriad of luxurious services and personalized choices available to those who can afford seeking treatment from private facilities.

(Click here for private room charges in Hong Kong. You will discover how they are calculated, the types of rooms available, and what’s excluded from hospital room rates.)

Despite its high price tag, the superior service provided by medical staff who are often able to speak a number of foreign languages, as well as much shorter waiting times and longer visiting hours all point to why a growing number of people prefer private healthcare treatment in Hong Kong, especially expats and their families.

The cons

The increasing cost of private healthcare in Hong Kong is widely known, and there is little indication that this trend will be slowing. For instance, first-class in-patient care will set you back by around HKD $5,640 per day, and a C-section maternity delivery package costs up to HKD $60,500 (excluding all additional charges, such as doctors’ and nursing fees).

What you will find with private facilities is that the fees advertised for services are often not very transparent, and extra charges can be very exorbitant. As such, it’s paramount that you protect yourself financially with a robust health insurance plan.

What are Hong Kong’s best hospitals?

The best hospital for you will depend on your particular medical needs and requirements, so the answer to this question is not so simple. However, if you’re looking for recommendations based on hospital rankings, be sure to check out the Hospital Advisor website. Labeled the “TripAdvisor” of hospitals in Hong Kong, Hospital Advisor is an online platform that ranks hospitals based on reviews submitted by users.

According to the Hospital Advisor website, the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital and Matilda International Hospital (both private hospitals), as well as the Tai Po Hospital (a public hospital) are positioned at the top for their overall hospital rankings. Many of the top-ranked facilities on the site belong to the private sector, so if you wish to receive private treatment without breaking the bank, having a comprehensive health insurance plan is essential.

Finding the best health insurance in Hong Kong

Those of you from countries where securing personal health insurance isn’t necessary (e.g. the UK) may find securing a private health plan quite confusing. The rest of you may be more familiar with the types of insurance coverage you can expect from an individual health insurance policy:

  • Inpatient coverage: This coverage, also commonly known as hospital insurance coverage, will cover your hospitalization expenses. Generally speaking, all health insurance plans offer inpatient coverage as their bare minimum.
  • Outpatient coverage: This benefit provides coverage for medical treatment that does not require an overnight stay or hospitalization (e.g. General Practitioner (GP) visits).
  • Maternity coverage: This type of insurance is available as an add-on benefit, and is for those expecting to conceive a child. The benefit covers prenatal and delivery costs, and in some cases, postnatal emergency care. Be warned that maternity coverage does have a waiting period (10 – 24 months) that must elapse before you can submit claims, so it is best to secure it before you get pregnant.
  • Dental coverage and vision coverage: These are common add-ons for those looking to cover their dental and optical expenses.

Then, there’s also a number of things you’ll also need to consider, such as whether you would like coverage for your pre-existing conditions (if applicable), and whether you’d like local or global health insurance coverage. If you’re stuck on finding the best health plan, consulting an established broker, like Pacific Prime, means you can take advantage of our 20+ years’ experience and knowledge in the insurance industry in Hong Kong to ensure that you have the policy you need at a price you’re comfortable with.

Contact us for obligation-free advice today!

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Jess Lindeman

Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
Jess Lindeman