Hong Kong’s government should be more open-minded and realise the urgency of innovation in the health care sector, representatives from the medical and pharmaceutical industries said on Wednesday.
They were speaking on a panel at the latest edition of the “Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series”, a forum held in Central and organised by the South China Morning Post.
Speakers envisioned Hong Kong in the next five years to make progress in health care technology, such as harnessing artificial intelligence to interpret imaging scans, or rolling out Uber-like mobile apps to match patients with doctors – a service already available in mainland China.
The Hong Kong government has set out policy directions to encourage technological development in health care in recent years, including the setting up of a big data analytics platform under the Hospital Authority. This initiative includes establishing a health technologies research cluster in Science Park, and encouraging a smart hospital approach.
But speakers at the forum on Wednesday urged stakeholders, including the government, to do more for innovation.
Felix Lee Kar-chung, executive director of UMP Healthcare Holdings, which provides medical and health care services in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, said local infrastructure for technology was lagging.
“It’s about the whole population understanding what the adoption of technology really means. It requires you to challenge your organisational structure,” he said.
It’s about the whole population understanding what the adoption of technology really means
Lee pointed out that it had been difficult to bring in new technologies such as virtual care or patient monitoring through AI – used on the mainland – because of regulatory constraints.
Daniel Thurley, vice-president of the Hong Kong Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry and Hong Kong and Macau general manager of Swiss pharmaceutical Roche, said the sector had been transparent in sharing data of clinical trials with researchers, without any privacy breaches.
“It shows these things are possible,” he added.
UMP’s Lee also urged the government to understand the urgency to adopt medical technologies.
“It’s proven that globally and across the border, and in the US and Britain, adopting virtual care technology and remote monitoring of patients ... [can bring benefits],” Lee said, noting that technology could help reduce the burden of costs on the health care system.
Lee also said he hoped the government would allow people in Hong Kong to use electronic health data for preventive purposes. For instance, users could voluntarily share their data for diagnosis and also include daily behavioural information for more insight.
Dirk Schraven, CEO of the private Gleneagles Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang, said hospitals were slow to adapt medical innovations related to patient care.
He added that both public and private hospitals had remained stagnant in their processes.
Schraven echoed the call to embrace technology, citing evidence showing artificial intelligence could help radiologists study scans and diagnose illnesses.
Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of concern group Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, did not attend Wednesday’s forum but said regulation in the city had been slow to keep pace with technological development.
“A wide discussion among the public is usually required before deciding how to regulate a certain technological advancement, and thus [this step] is often slower,” Lam said.
He added that in the future, patients’ groups and regulatory bodies could start dialogues on emerging technologies before they become popular, to allow time for regulation to catch up.