What’s the best thing about the public hospitals in Hong Kong? In true Hong Kong fashion, it’s the price. It seems as if anything you need to get done there costs just HK$100 (approximately US$13). And, yes, you can pay using your Octopus card. I wouldn’t be surprised if a heart transplant costs HK$100.
About three months ago I fell down on Nathan Road. Okay, I admit it, I had been drinking (I hardly ever drink alcohol any more and as a result when I do, my tolerance is way down and I keep forgetting that). I was crossing the street, I stepped up on the curb, turned my ankle and came crashing down on my elbow. I could wiggle my fingers and toes so I figured that nothing was damaged.
The pains didn’t go away so after two months, I went to the hospital. They took two sets of x-rays, I spoke with a doctor and they gave me four or five different kinds of pills. HK$100. I had a small fracture on the bone just above my ankle; no damage to my elbow visible in x-rays. They also gave me a follow-up appointment 3 weeks later with an orthopedic specialist.
That follow-up was today. The form tells you that if you’re 15 minutes late, you won’t be seen, so be on time. Nothing there about what if I’m on time and they take more than 15 minutes to get to me. I was on time, even a little bit early. After paying my HK$100 I was taken to a waiting area with 30 seats and at least 60 people waiting.
After 75 minutes, my number was called. The doctor looked at my ankle and touched it once. He said no operation needed. He offered me some pills for the almost constant (minor) pain I’m in but I told him that the ones they gave me last time did nothing. I asked if they had anything stronger. No. Morphine? No. Medical marijuana? No.
Then I said, but what about my elbow, that hurts more than my ankle. He looked at it. He touched it once. He pronounced me a victim of repetitive stress injury. “Tennis elbow.” But I fell on it. Tennis elbow – what’s your job? Computer crap. Tennis elbow.
Okay, so what can I do about it? They can give me a splint. You mean like the support bandage thingie I got from the drug store? No, something a little bit stronger. So he gives me a piece of paper and off I go to the occupational therapy section. After ten minutes there, they give me a piece of paper telling me to come back in 3 weeks. I say to them, all I need is a splint, I can’t get that today? No. I’m in pain, I can’t get something today? Come back in 3 weeks.
And that is one of the reasons that private doctors and private hospitals continue to flourish in Hong Kong. If you want to get an appointment the same week or you want a doctor to spend more than a minute with you, you have to pay. The public hospital system is over-burdened and constantly challenged by over-worked staff – there are continual shortages of doctors and nurses both because of budget constraints and also the inexplicably controversial issue of bringing in medical staff from abroad.
My company does supply me with medical insurance. And if I go to one of the doctors or clinics on their list, it’s often free. But my experiences in these clinics has been no better than the service I get in the hospitals.
So sometimes I’ll go see my own doctor, most often a Scottish gentleman with an office in Clearwater Bay. He charges between $750 and $1,000 a visit (my insurance will reimburse me around $200) but he’ll spend half an hour with me. And if the pains haven’t improved in the next couple of weeks, I suppose I’ll be giving him a call.