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LCQ17: General out-patient clinic telephone appointment service

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Han-pan and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (December 12):


     Quite a number of elderly persons have relayed to me that while the Hospital Authority (HA) has introduced the General Out-patient Clinic (GOPC) Phone Appointment Service (Phone Appointment Service) with the original intent of facilitating members of the public (in particular elderly persons) to book appointments over the phone so that they are not required to visit clinics in person and queue for consultation quotas early in the morning, the Phone Appointment Service has all along been unable to provide any genuine convenience to them.  These elderly persons pointed out that the lines of the Service were always busy; they could not complete the booking procedure due to failure to press the buttons as instructed within the short time limit; and they were not allocated consultation quotas even though they had completed the booking procedure.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(a) among the number of attendances in each of the public GOPCs in the past three years, the number and percentage of attendances of those patients who were allocated consultation quotas through the Phone Appointment Service;

(b) as the Introduction of the Phone Appointment Service stipulates that patients who have failed to attend an appointment and have not cancelled the booking for three or more separate occasions within two months will be prevented from using the Service, the number of patients since 2006 who were prevented from using the Service for this reason, and their age distribution;

(c) the effectiveness of the various improvement measures implemented by HA since the launch of the Phone Appointment Service in 2006; and

(d) whether HA has any plan to implement measures in future to further enhance the Phone Appointment Service, so as to address the problems encountered by the elderly persons in using the Service at present; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


     Our reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) General out-patient services provided by the Hospital Authority (HA) are primarily targeted at serving the elderly, the low-income group and the chronically ill.  Patients under the care of general out-patient clinics (GOPCs) comprise two major categories: chronic disease patients with stable medical conditions, such as patients with diabetes mellitus or hypertension; and episodic disease patients with relatively mild symptoms, such as those suffering from influenza, cold, gastroenteritis, etc.  For those with episodic diseases, consultation timeslots at GOPCs in the next 24 hours are available for booking through HA's telephone appointment system.  As for chronic disease patients requiring follow-up consultations, they will be assigned a visit timeslot after each consultation and do not need to make separate appointments by phone.

     At present, HA operates a total of 74 GOPCs in Hong Kong with telephone appointment service available at 65 of them.  As for the remaining nine GOPCs which are located on outlying islands or in remote areas, patients may visit these clinics direct to seek services during their operating hours.  In 2011-12, the GOPCs under HA have provided around five million attendances involving more than 1.3 million patients.  Over 90% of the target users of general out-patient services, including elders, recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and those enjoying medical fee waiver, were able to secure a consultation timeslot successfully through the telephone appointment system within two working days.

(b) To ensure better utilisation of consultation quotas and public resources, HA hopes that patients who cannot attend scheduled consultations would call to cancel their appointments in advance.  HA has incorporated reminder voice messages in the telephone appointment system and produced educational videos on show in all GOPCs to remind patients of the importance of cancelling appointments as well as the relevant procedures.  To prevent abuse of the telephone appointment system, HA will suspend telephone appointment service for those patients who fail to turn up for consultations on three occasions within two months without making prior cancellation of their appointments.  The patients concerned are required to visit GOPCs in person for registration should they intend to continue using GOPC services.

     The default situation has improved following implementation of the above measures.  In 2008-09, patients who did not turn up for scheduled consultations amounted to around 8% of the allocated slots.  This dropped to about 6% in 2011-12.  Only around 0.1% of the GOPC patients had their telephone appointment service suspended in 2011-12.

(c) and (d) To alleviate the crowded conditions of clinics and reduce the risk of cross-infection among patients, HA launched the telephone appointment system in 2006 so that patients do not have to visit clinics and queue in person for consultation quotas.  Currently the telephone appointment system has over 500 telephone lines providing 24-hour appointment services.  Given the huge volume of GOPC services, the automated appointment system enables the search and allocation of available consultation quotas to be conducted within the shortest time possible, thereby improving service efficiency. The system also forms a network which allows consultation quotas of different GOPCs in the same area to be linked and pooled together for use. When a particular clinic has run out of consultation slots, the system will automatically search for available quotas in nearby clinics, thereby ensuring that consultation slots and clinic resources are fully utilised and that patients do not have to commute between clinics in search of consultation opportunities.

     In response to feedback from the public, HA has introduced a number of measures to improve the operation of the system.  These include: increasing the number of telephone lines from 350 to over 500 to enhance system capacity; introducing an Elderly Appointment Quota for patients aged 65 or above; extending the response time to allow sufficient time for users (in particular elders) to input data; replacing computerised voice with authentic human voice to make it easier for users to hear; simplifying data entry procedures to make the system more user-friendly for elders; introducing an SMS booking service to meet the needs of those with hearing impairment; and setting up a help desk in every GOPC to assist individuals who encounter difficulties in using the telephone appointment service as appropriate.  HA will closely monitor the operation of the telephone appointment system and introduce appropriate improvement measures when necessary.  

Ends/Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:04


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