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LCQ16: Telephone booking service for general out-patient clinics

    Following is a question by the Dr Hon Fernando Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (March 5):


    The Hospital Authority (HA) has fully implemented the telephone booking service in general out-patient clinics (GOPCs) since October 2006. In a paper provided for the meeting of the Panel on Health Services of this Council on December 11, 2006, the former Health, Welfare and Food Bureau pointed out that HA would offer appropriate assistance on a case-by-case basis to those who faced genuine difficulty in using the telephone booking service, including individual patients with a disability or elderly patients with hearing impairment etc., such as arranging medical consultations for them directly without the need to use the telephone booking service. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it knows:

(a) if HA has any specific publicity plan to publicise the above assistance which may be offered to the above persons; if there is such a plan, of the types of location, time and means for the publicity concerned (and the number of leaflets distributed if publicity is done through distribution of leaflets);

(b) given that I have learned that there were patients with hearing impairment seeking treatment in person at HA's GOPCs, and among them, some were neither given assistance by the staff in booking consultation slots nor arranged to receive treatment on the same day, while others could receive treatment on the same day because the staff concerned had arranged to increase the consultation quotas for the day for them, whether HA has drawn up clear guidelines to specify, when the GOPC consultation quota for a particular session is full but patients with a disability or the elderly have sought immediate medical treatment in person at the clinics concerned, under what circumstances front-line staff should increase consultation quotas or assist patients in booking out-patient service for the following day; if such guidelines have been drawn up, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) given that the authorities indicated in January this year that at this stage, HA had no plan to add a manually-operated telephone booking system, because such an arrangement would exert further pressure on the resources and manpower of the existing general out-patient service and was not cost-effective, whether HA has calculated the exact additional manpower and resources required for such an arrangement; if it has, of the details; if not, how HA assesses the cost-effectiveness of the arrangement; and

(d) the number of complaints received by HA since October 2006 about the telephone booking service and the reasons for such complaints?


Madam President,

    The implementation of the telephone booking service is mainly to improve the crowded queueing conditions in general out-patient clinics (GOPCs) and make optimal use of the resources of the public general out-patient service. After its implementation for over a year, the crowded queueing conditions in GOPCs have been significantly improved and long waiting queues outside the clinics are rarely seen. We understand that some individuals may have difficulties in using the telephone booking service. In this connection, the Hospital Authority (HA) has progressively launched a number of measures to improve the telephone booking service and offer appropriate assistance to those who have difficulties in using the telephone booking service, including arranging medical consultations for these people without requiring them to use telephone booking as necessary.

    My reply to the question is as follows:

(a) According to the statistical data of the HA, most of the patients with episodic illnesses who sought medical consultation at GOPCs used the telephone booking service. For patients who need time to adapt to the telephone booking service, the HA has been helping them familiarise with the telephone booking system through publicity and education. The HA is also aware that some elderly people and persons with disabilities (including those with visual or hearing impairment) may encounter difficulties in using the telephone booking service, and has written to all District Councils' offices/non-governmental elderly service agencies and organisations concerned, appealing for their assistance to advise and remind elderly people and those who are not able to use the telephone booking service that they can approach clinics in their districts in person to seek assistance from clinic staff. With this arrangement, these persons can continue to use the public general out-patient service when necessary. Besides, the HA has put in place measures to deal with the medical consultation needs of individuals seeking assistance from clinics through clinic staff.

(b) To enable frontline staff to render appropriate assistance to people with genuine difficulties in using the telephone booking service, the HA issued guidelines to each GOPC in February 2007 on how to deal with elderly people and patients with disabilities who have difficulties in using the telephone booking service. A help desk has been set up in each GOPC to render assistance to these people and allow them to seek medical consultations directly at the registration counter during consultation hours without the need to use telephone booking. In the light of the patients' conditions and preferences, clinic staff (mostly nurses) can exercise discretion to assist them in using or teach them to use the telephone booking service, make telephone booking on their behalf, or arrange medical consultations for them directly. If all consultation slots for the current session have been allocated, clinic staff will, having regard to the actual situation, exercise discretion to consider making use of the consultation slots allocated to patients who fail to turn up or providing additional consultation slots, or arranging bookings for patients in other consultation sessions. It is stated in the guidelines that clinics should render assistance to elderly people with genuine difficulties so that they are not denied medical services they need. After the issuance of the guidelines, the HA has from time to time reminded the clinic staff to observe the guidelines.

(c) The HA estimates that the introduction of a manually-operated telephone booking system requires an additional annual recurrent expenditure of about $21 million. The accuracy of a manually-operated booking service may not necessarily be better, and the processing time required for each booking may be longer, making it more difficult for out-patients (including elderly people) to be put through. Therefore, the Administration has no plan at present to set up a manually-operated telephone booking system. We will continue to explore with the HA on how to arrange general out-patient service for those elderly people with specific difficulties in using the telephone booking service.

(d) Between October 2006 and 2007, the HA has received a total of 72 complaints concerning the telephone booking service as shown in Table.

Ends/Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Issued at HKT 16:09


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