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LCQ13: Hospital Authority specialist out-patient clinics
     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (May 9):


     Quite a number of members of the public have complained to me recently that although they turned up at the specialist outpatient clinics (SOPCs) under the Hospital Authority (HA) at the appointment time for follow-up consultations, they still needed to wait for three to four hours before they received doctors' diagnoses and treatment.  There was a case in which a hemiplegic patient, when attending a follow-up consultation, waited for three hours and was driven to tears by pangs of waist and back pain while waiting.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(1) in respect of each SOPC under HA, (i) the current average appointment quota per consultation room per hour, and (ii) the current average time lapse from a patient's appointment time for a follow-up consultation to the patient's receiving diagnosis and treatment (set out in a table);

(2) the criteria adopted by HA for setting the hourly quotas for follow-up consultations at various SOPCs;

(3) whether HA has reviewed the reasons why patients attending follow-up consultations by appointment need to wait for as long as several hours before they receive diagnoses and treatment; if so, the reasons and whether such reasons include (i) manpower shortage of specialist doctors, (ii) an overestimation of doctors' efficiency in performing consultations, and (iii) appointment quotas having been set excessively high;

(4) whether HA has put in place measures to address the problem of excessively long waiting time for patients attending follow-up consultations; if HA has, the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether HA will consider introducing a technology system whereby short messages are issued to patients who are to attend follow-up consultations to inform them in advance of a more exact time range on that day within which they can receive diagnoses and treatment, so as to shorten patients' waiting time at the clinics; and

(6) as some members of the public have pointed out that they were arranged to take blood tests on the day of the follow-up consultation, but due to the time needed for preparing the blood test reports, they had to wait for as long as four hours before they received diagnoses and treatment, the current average time lapse from a healthcare worker's taking blood sample from a SOPC patient to the completion of the blood test report by the laboratory, and set out the time needed for completing each step?



     There are currently 48 specialist out-patient clinics (SOPCs) under the Hospital Authority (HA), with an annual capacity of over 7 million attendances.  Given Hong Kong's ageing population and rising prevalence of chronic diseases, there is an ever-increasing demand for SOPC services.  These factors, coupled with an inadequate supply of healthcare manpower, have often caused SOPC healthcare staff to work overtime in order to meet the mounting service needs.

     Generally speaking, the SOPCs of the HA allocate consultation quotas to different time slots having regard to their healthcare manpower, workflow and the operational needs of different specialties, so as to fully utilise the quotas and resources.  To avoid long queuing time for consultation, patients are advised to register at the SOPCs according to the registration time printed on their appointment slips.  It can also prevent over-crowding the waiting areas.

     As patients' medical conditions and thus the consultation time needed vary, and doctors are called away from time to time for emergencies in the wards, SOPC patients may need to wait longer than expected for consultation.  Besides, the SOPCs may, depending on the medical conditions of the patients concerned, arrange for them to undergo the necessary check-ups before consultation.  Therefore, some patients may have to wait for check-ups after registration.  They will then be provided with follow-up treatment by doctors, taking account of their latest conditions, after all reports of the necessary check-ups and laboratory tests are obtained.

     To improve the workflow of its specialist out-patient services, the HA has launched a mobile application called "BookHA" in recent years to enable the public to submit applications for new case appointments for SOPC services at any time.  At present, the HA is also working on the phased installation of a queue management system (QMS) at its major SOPCs.  The QMS can display the appointment registration time of the patients attending at the clinics, supplemented by an electronic public address system to notify them of their turn for consultation.  The QMS not only enhances the transparency of the queuing procedures, but also helps the SOPCs streamline their workflow and allocate consultation quotas to different time slots.  The HA will review the operation of its specialist out-patient services from time to time, make timely improvements, and consider the feasibility of enhancing the use of technology systems so as to shorten the patients' queuing time for consultation as far as practicable.

     On manpower enhancement, the HA will reinforce the doctor manpower for SOPC services through measures such as implementing a Special Honorarium Scheme for serving doctors, employing part-time doctors and re-employing doctors who are about to retire.  In addition, the HA will continue to promote primary care services and ensure that family medicine specialist clinics and general out-patient clinics play a gatekeeper's role, thereby alleviating the pressure on SOPC waiting time.

     The HA does not keep statistics on the average appointment quota per hour per consultation room, the average time lapse from a patient's appointment registration time to the patient's receiving diagnoses and treatment, and the average time lapse from blood taking to the completion of the blood test report by the laboratory for each of the SOPCs.
Ends/Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Issued at HKT 12:30
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