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Preparing for any medical emergency in Hong Kong

The holiday season is upon us, this also means that influenza season is also here. You likely have noticed the number of people sniffing, sneezing, coughing, and generally looking unwell has increased in recent weeks, you may have even come down with the cold or flu yourself. While many of us start to feel better after a few days there is always the chance that you may need to see a doctor or worse, be sick enough to warrant a trip to the Emergency department. As health emergencies can happen at any time, it is important to be prepared with not only a health insurance plan that can cover the cost of emergency care but also an idea of what to do and how to prepare for a medical emergency.

Preparing for a medical emergency

In Hong Kong there are a number of steps you can take to prepare you or your family for a medical emergency in the city. Here are seven of the most important steps.

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1. Secure health insurance

The price of medical care in the city can be extremely expensive, especially if you visit the private hospitals where some procedures can cost about the same as those in the US. In a medical emergency, the last thing you want to be worrying about is how you are going to cover the costs, having the best health insurance plan in place before any emergency can and will help offset the costs of care.

2. Know what your plan does and doesn’t cover and whether you have a dedicated/preferred provider network

A wide variety of health insurance plans are available in Hong Kong. Some plans only cover care in the city, while others will cover care internationally. Beyond that, you will also have different levels of coverage with different plans. For example, some plans will only cover care where you are admitted to hospital by a doctor (inpatient care) while other plans will also cover care received at clinics or outpatient wards at the private hospitals.

Regardless of the type of plan or the location of coverage you are likely going to have coverage limits in place for different types of care. These limits are either dollar amounts set on a yearly or lifetime basis and are the maximum amount your insurer will cover; or a set number of treatments you can receive in a year/life of the plan for a specific ailment. You are going to have to pay out of pocket for any amount that goes over the limit.

This is particularly important if you have a plan with local coverage only and you go to a private hospital for care. Some plans have limits low enough where you might reach them within 1-2 visits to a private hospital which could result in you paying fairly costly medical bills out of pocket.

If you know the limits of your plan, and what is/isn’t covered you can better prepare for a medical emergency. For example, if you know you are close to your plan’s coverage limit, you may want to consider visiting the public sector (especially if you have an HKID card), or consider securing better health insurance coverage.

Beyond that, many insurers also have direct billing or preferred care networks. These are groups of doctors and hospitals who have agreed to bill insurers directly for care you receive meaning you likely won’t have to pay any money when you receive care (as long as the cost is within plan limits/covered by your plan). If you know where the nearest A&E department that is part of your network is located you could see yourself receiving care quicker.

3. Have important insurance and contact information close at hand

All insurers should issue you with a card when you secure coverage. This card will have important information such as your coverage limits, any restrictions, and important contact details including a hotline you can call to start a claim or if there is an emergency.

It would be a good idea to keep this card in your wallet as should there be a serious medical emergency where you are unresponsive/unable to respond, A&E staff are trained to look for these cards. When they find them, many hospitals will contact your insurer to start the billing process.  

Some people will also put important contact information e.g., their spouse’s phone number in the same location, which could help hospital staff know who to contact.

And of course, if you believe you need an ambulance you can dial 999. This should be done only in a true medical emergency, however. If you are still ambulatory or are able to move, it might be better to try to get into a taxi or get a friend to drive you to the hospital.

4. Know where the nearest emergency/A&E department is

It is important to know that not all hospitals in Hong Kong have emergency departments that operate 24 hours. In fact, most of the private hospitals will actually send critical patients and those in serious need of care to the public hospital A&E departments during off hours.

To be clear here, many of the private hospitals do operate 24-hour outpatient clinics meaning you can receive care at any time, however, if there is a medical emergency they may not be equipped to treat you and will send you to a public A&E department.

This means it would be a good idea to be aware of the where the nearest emergency department is to locations you frequent. Luckily, the Hospital Authority keeps a list of all emergency departments in Hong Kong, so try looking there when you are searching for the nearest hospitals.

We should point out here that if you do need to call 999 for an ambulance, you will not be able to pick which hospital you are taken to. Instead, they will take you to the nearest A&E department.

5. Plan where to go if your child is sick

It is important to note that not every hospital in Hong Kong is equipped to effectively treat children, especially if there is an emergency. For example, there might only be one or two pediatricians on staff at one time, or the hospital might not have equipment available to treat a specific medical emergency.

It is therefore recommended to discuss with your regular pediatrician before any emergency happens. They should be able to recommend the best place to take your child.  

6. Know what to do in a medical emergency

This is likely the most important step as a medical emergency can be incredibly stressful to deal with, especially if you are unsure what to do. Generally speaking, there are 4 important steps to take during an emergency:

  1. Know whether you should call an ambulance or get to the hospital in another manner – The ambulance can be a life saver, however health experts all agree that it should only be called in an emergency. If you have a hurt tooth, a cold, etc. it would probably not be a good idea to call an ambulance. Instead, try taking a taxi to the hospital.
  2. Contact your insurer or Pacific Prime – This is an optional step, of course. However, if you are able to, calling Pacific Prime or your insurer while you are on the way to the hospital would be a good idea. The reason for this is we can help start the billing process meaning you might be able to see a doctor quicker. Also, some insurers will be able to recommend a hospital that might be better suited to help/offers direct billing meaning you won’t have to pay for care if it’s covered.
  3. Receive treatment – If you can’t reach your insurer or Pacific Prime, don’t worry. Go ahead and receive treatment, you can deal with claims after you have seen a doctor. Just be sure to have your insurance card with you so the hospital staff know who to contact.
  4. Have the hospital contact your insurer – This is usually done automatically when you sign into the hospital, but it would be a good idea to check to make sure it is being done. This way the relevant paperwork and billing can be started without you having to chase it up later.

7. Make an emergency plan

While we hope you will never have to use one, having an emergency plan in writing or at least thought out can be a big help should there actually be a medical emergency. For example, knowing who to call, when to call an ambulance, where the nearest hospitals with A&E departments are, where your insurance information is kept, etc. can make actually receiving care a lot less stressful.

Interestingly, if you combine the information from the first six steps together, you should have the basis of a solid emergency plan in place.

One important thing to be aware of

Like all care in Hong Kong, there is a fee associated with visiting the emergency department. As of the writing of this article in late December 2016, the charge for a visit to an A&E department for people with an HKID card was HKD 100. That said, there has been recent news that the hospitals have all agreed to increase the fee to HKD 220. This is a fairly substantial jump, one that many believe to be warranted.

That said, the government still has to approve the jump in price, but it is a good thing to be aware of and follow should you think you will need to receive emergency medical care in the near future. Of course, all health insurance plans will cover this fee, but if you say forgot your insurance card or are unable to contact your insurer you may be required to pay this fee. This means it would be a good idea to ensure you have at least HKD 220 on you.

In the meantime, if you are looking for health insurance coverage, why not contact our Hong Kong-based insurance agents. They can help you identify a plan that will see all of your healthcare needs covered including emergency care. Talk to them 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