The number of Covid cases has been low recently in Hong Kong, with majority of them being imported cases. Shops and restaurants are always open. Several measures still apply to contain the spread of the virus including restrictions on number of people gathering, wearing masks, capacity restrictions for certain facilities, compulsory quarantine at designated hotels after returning to Hong Kong and limited access to Hong Kong for non-residents.
People seem to be adapted to the ‘new normal as many of them return to work at offices, and resume social activities and sports. Entertainment and sport facilities are also open as well.
All Covid patients are taken care of by the public sector, while preventative measures are in place in private hospitals for protecting patients, staff and visitors. Patients have gradually come for treatment and medical visits since May 2020. Our patient composition includes both Chinese and expatriates. As quarantine rules and border restrictions still apply, mostly patients are local residents or expatriates who are living or working in Hong Kong.
Dr Hans Schrader, Chief Medical Executive of Matilda International hospital, shared some insights into the telemedicine services offered by the hospital, and the gradual return of medical travel
Has Matilda made use of telehealth services to keep serving patients during the lockdown? Which platform did you use, and why was this chosen?
We were fortunate to have two platforms:
- A platform run in Malaysia called RingMD offered us to use without charges at the beginning of 2020.
- The second platform is part of HK Telecom service called Dr Go. This platform outreached to a few healthcare providers with customer support and medication delivery.
Are there still high numbers of expatriates in Hong Kong, and do you think they are more aware of the importance of high-quality medical care now than they were before the pandemic?
In both local and expatriate patients, we have noted an increase in consultations related to general health and wellbeing, particularly preparing for the vaccination and counselling regarding the insecurities patients may have in regards to immunisation, the need to travel, taking precautions, and the role of Vitamin D.
Are people in the region starting to travel again for medical care?
We have seen a small pick-up in medical related travel. With the border restrictions in place, our usual ‘neighbours’ who would typically be flying in continue to be very restrictive and the time out required for a simple procedure is still prohibitive.
There are concerns in many countries that as a result of Covid, fewer people are going to the hospital to get checked out for other illnesses, and diseases such as cancer could not be detected until it is too late as a result. Is Matilda trying to encourage people to come for health screenings to catch up with these kinds of appointments?
We have set up contracts with corporates for providing health screening for their staff, and after the initial slow down at the beginning of 2020, this is now fully taken up again and many clients requesting additional information on cardiac health. We have not observed a trend for late presentations, in fact, with people unable to travel and the increased importance to stay healthy, we have seen private clients that may not have done health checks before booking screenings, helping with early disease detection.
Lynne Fung, Executive Director of Business Development, discusses patient profile alterations and the importance of maintaining strong relationships with insurers around the world
The lack of travellers has affected many hospitals with international departments; how has Matilda coped with the changing numbers of patients?
Although we saw a dip in numbers of travelers for medical care, we also have those that have been unable to travel out, so we have been caring for them and have a long-standing commitment in our local community. Our service offerings have been adapted and extended, especially in the areas of wellness and maternity care. Keeping our patients safe continues to be priority, not matter where they are coming from.
The public hospitals’ capacity are under great pressure as they re-allocate resources for treating Covid patients and providing vaccination services. We collaborate with the government to provide essential care to some of its patients on breast treatment.
Not being able to carry out face-to-face meetings with insurers to build relationships and ensure smooth case management can make life difficult. How have you managed these business relationships during the pandemic?
Over the years we have cultivated strong relations with insurers and have a firm foundation of trust and recognition of our quality and providing care according to best practice. This made the transition to online meetings easier and our insurance partners were both agile and appreciative of engaging in new ways of connecting.
For those insurers who have local representatives, face-to-face meetings have been resumed, and it will be a great day when we can meet face to face again with a lot more insurers.
Looking forward, do you envisage international patient numbers to return to what they were pre-pandemic, and if so, when do you think that will happen?
Yes, there will be a return of regional patients as there is a need to access the international level of care that we offer, and some patients have been travelling to us for many years. Currently, they have had to find local providers for their immediate health concerns; access to telemedicine has helped for chronic ongoing problems, and most have postponed non-urgent surgery or undergone the quarantine requirements after travelling to Hong Kong for larger operations such as bilateral hip resurfacing. As to when the majority will be able to take up medical travel, we are hopeful that it will be feasible in 2022, vaccinations rates permitting (currently the crystal ball is a little hazy).