An award-winning geriatrician has said communication, patience and learning from the past were key to his success in steering a Hong Kong hospital through the Covid-19 pandemic.
And when it comes to dealing with elderly patients, Dr Mok Chun-keung believes it is important to look after their carers as well.
The deputy chief executive of Tuen Mun Hospital was recently named one of 2020’s seven outstanding staff at the Hospital Authority, which runs Hong Kong’s public hospitals.
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The 59-year-old, whose hospital was at the centre of the coronavirus fight over the last nine months, said the well-being of a hospital, or even society at large, depended on how well it treated older patients.
“If you give antibiotics to a young patient with pneumonia, he can probably be discharged after a week and go back to work,” Mok said in an interview with the Post.
“For an elderly patient who lies in a hospital bed for one week, it often takes two more weeks for him to recover and even then, it is very difficult to return to his original state.”
Mok, who has worked in the public health sector for 34 years, and has been a consultant geriatrician for 26 years, said a hospital that took care of its elderly patients was one with a good system.
“To treat an elderly patient is not just about treating the illness, but also about looking after the carers, the surrounding environment, and all the rest of it,” he said.
He said he learned about the importance of also focusing on carers 20 years ago, when a stroke patient’s wife complained about the medical care the man was receiving.
Mok resolved the misunderstanding by taking his time to explain the patient’s complicated condition to his wife.
“At the end of our conversation, I said to her it must be quite tough doing the caretaking day in and day out,” he recalled. “Immediately, she burst into tears. She said I was the first person to say that to her.”
The woman who started by complaining, ended up writing Mok a thank-you note for his dedication in looking after her husband over the years that followed.
Hong Kong is facing a greying trend, and according to government projections, those aged over 65 will make up 34 per cent of the population by 2066, up from 16 per cent in 2016.
In hospitals, Mok said, elderly people made up 60 to 70 per cent of patients in wards other than paediatrics and obstetrics and gynaecology.
He took charge of his hospital’s geriatrics department in 2011, at a particularly rocky time where several medical blunders made headlines and disgruntled staff suffered from low morale.
Mok made communication his priority, starting an open-door policy and inviting employees to drop in for a chat. The situation gradually improved.
While at the department, he helped to start an outreach programme to more than 95 per cent of elderly homes in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long districts, treating residents and training staff.
When Covid-19 struck early this year, Mok was determined not to allow a repeat of what happened at his hospital during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak of 2003.
Tuen Mun Hospital admitted 91 Sars patients, and the killer virus infected 14 health care workers, two of whom died.
One of them was respiratory specialist Tse Yuen-man, widely regarded as a Sars hero for volunteering to go into isolation wards to treat patients.
The tragedy of losing Tse made Mok determined to ensure that all health care workers were adequately protected when treating coronavirus patients. So far, no staff member of the hospital has been infected.
Mok, who is due to retire next year, said for him, growing old meant more possibilities.
He summed it up: “I will become a ‘young elderly’ next year, and no one knows what the future holds!”
This article Treating elderly patients means looking after their carers too, award-winning Hong Kong doctor says first appeared on South China Morning Post