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LCQ2: EC Connect
     Following is a question by Professor the Hon Chan Wing-kwong and a written reply by the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau, in the Legislative Council today (April 26):


     It is learnt that in order to promote the digitalisation of Chinese medicine (CM) healthcare information, the Hospital Authority has developed a CM healthcare information system, the "EC Connect", for use by CM clinics free of charge under a pilot scheme it launched in March 2020. Moreover, starting from March 2022, the EC Connect can be connected with the Electronic Health Record Sharing System (known in abbreviated form as "eHealth") to enable sharing of CM clinical data among CM clinics. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of private CM clinics which have installed and been using the EC Connect, and its percentage in the number of private CM clinics in Hong Kong;

(2) of the measures put in place by the authorities to encourage more private CM clinics to install and use the EC Connect; and

(3) given that in reply to my question at the Council meeting of February 15 this year, the Secretary for Health indicated that the Government would provide access to both Chinese and Western medicine information in due course, so that healthcare personnel of different institutions could access the electronic health records of patients through eHealth, of the anticipated implementation timetable?



     The Electronic Health Record Sharing System (generally referred to as eHealth) is an electronic platform developed by the Government that enables healthcare providers in both the public and private sectors, with the informed consent of registered patients and proper authorisation, to view and share patients' electronic health records (eHRs). The eHealth aims to encourage public-private partnership, facilitate continuity of care for patients and enhance the efficiency and quality of healthcare services. As at mid-April 2023, more than 5.75 million people, or nearly 80 per cent of the Hong Kong population, have registered with eHealth. Healthcare providers can register with eHealth on an organisational basis. The Hospital Authority, the Department of Health, 13 local private hospitals and over 2 700 other private healthcare organisations have registered as users.

     The reply to the various parts of the question raised by Professor Hon Chan Wing-kwong is as follows:

(1) and (2) The development of eHealth is based on the establishment of a platform for sharing eHRs. For Stage One Development, the scope of data sharing mainly focused on Western medicine information. Under Stage Two Development, eHealth further expanded to support the uploading and sharing of Chinese Medicine (CM) information including records of CM diagnosis, procedures and prescriptions. Starting from March 2022, Chinese medicine practitioners (CMPs) can join eHealth and, with patients' sharing consent, view all their eHRs uploaded by other CMPs, as well as data on their appointments, immunisation, allergies and adverse drug reactions that are uploaded by Western medicine practitioners.

     To facilitate the sharing of CM information on eHealth, the Government has developed EC Connect, a clinical management system for CM clinics, after taking into consideration the views of the CM sector and the actual operation of CM clinics. Officially launched in July 2022, EC Connect primarily supports the computerisation of the daily administration and clinical management of CM clinics in need, while providing a software choice for CM clinics in the sector to connect with eHealth to promote the sharing of CM clinical data.

     To encourage private CM clinics to install and use EC Connect, applications for subsidy under the Chinese Medicine Clinic Improvement Funding Scheme of the Chinese Medicine Development Fund will be given priority if applicants will also install EC Connect at the same time. With EC Connect in place, CM clinics can view patients' eHRs in an easy and fast manner via the system's direct connection with the eHealth. Since the launch of EC Connect, the Government has carried out publicity and promotion through various channels such as the Newsletter from the Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board published by the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong, CM information platforms, various CM associations. The Government has also produced and uploaded promotional and training videos to the eHealth thematic website. As an incentive for encouraging more CM clinics to use EC Connect, CM clinics participating at this stage are exempted from payment of the related fees, including those for system installation, version update, training and technical support. The Government will also continue to collect views from users on a regular basis and keep enhancing the system to facilitate the daily operation of CM clinics.

     As at March 2023, a total of 156 CM healthcare organisations and around 300 CM healthcare service locations have joined eHealth, with about 640 CMPs registered. Over 100 CM clinics have chosen to install and use EC Connect, the clinical management system for CM clinics. CM sector's active participation of eHealth and uploading of patients' health records will facilitate the promotion of wider use of eHRs in the CM sector and the sharing of CM clinical information.

(3) As at early April 2023, a total of about 230 000 registered eHealth users gave sharing consent to private healthcare organisations which provide CM services to enable related healthcare professionals to view their eHRs.

     The purpose of developing eHealth is to enable the sharing of patients' health records among regulated healthcare providers in Hong Kong to facilitate continuous and holistic care. The scope of health records accessible by regulated healthcare providers is generally confined to the health information necessary for their professional practice. In general, specified healthcare professions which are allowed to view patients' health records through eHealth are expected to make reference to or make use of the relevant information professionally for the purpose of providing services, while adhering to relevant professional codes or guidelines. They are also required to understand and accept the corresponding professional responsibility and legal liability. Depending on the situation, appropriate professional training and liability insurance are also required to ensure the quality of the healthcare professional services and protect the safety and rights of patients.

     On the other hand, as health records contain patients' health information and eHealth accounts are patients' personal accounts, it is the right of the patients to have access to such records. In principle and in practice, a patient may obtain his/her own health records on eHealth (be it in electronic or paper form) for personal use, including providing copies of such health records to others including healthcare professionals outside Hong Kong. The provision of his/her health records to other individuals is the patient's personal choice, and eHealth has no restrictions on such an action. However, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, any regulated healthcare professionals in Hong Kong who view or make use of patients' personal health records must ensure that relevant professional codes and practices are complied with, and that the use of the relevant health records or information has been clearly explained to the patients.

     As to whether and how CMPs should be allowed to view the health records provided by other healthcare professionals through eHealth, the Government keeps an open mind, and this would depend on the deliberation on the issue by relevant healthcare professional bodies, including the relevance of eHealth records to the practice of CMPs, whether relevant professional training, codes or guidelines are available for accessing eHealth records by the CM profession, the handling of resultant professional responsibility and legal liability by the CM sector, as well as the public's views on allowing CMPs to view eHealth records. The Health Bureau will continue to listen to the opinions of various stakeholders before making a decision. 
Ends/Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Issued at HKT 15:30
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