If there is a single factor that could enhance delivery of health care services in Hong Kong using existing resources, it would be a functional partnership between the public and private sectors - or between public hospital doctors and private practitioners. In fact, more than eight years ago, the Health and Medical Development Advisory Committee envisaged an expansion of community care and preventive medicine, with greater involvement of private family doctors, to relieve pressure on the overstressed public system.
Key to this is shared online access to patient health records. In 2009, Legco's Finance Committee approved the allocation of HK$1.1 billion for the development of a computerised patient record system over the next 10 years. It may seem a long time but this is a sensitive issue with no room for error such as breach of privacy if patients are to have confidence in a public-private partnership.
It is only now that the government has announced that the first phase of the system will go online by the end of the year.
To ensure safeguards for privacy, officials will send the Electronic Health Record Sharing System Bill to Legco for scrutiny by the end of the month.
A spokesman said the government believed that sharing health records would enhance public-private partnerships to the benefit of patients, including children, senior citizens and people who frequently use public and private health-care services at the same time.
An example that could happen to anyone would be attendance at a public hospital accident and emergency department outside normal hours, with a follow-up visit to a private doctor. In these circumstances access to the results of hospital tests and a public doctor's clinical notes would make common sense.
In terms of the quality and cost of health care, sharing health records is expected to reduce errors in medical treatment and prescription and avoid duplication of tests. In the long run, it is the foundation of more efficient delivery of health care.