Middle-aged and elderly Hongkongers will start benefiting from a pilot subsidy scheme for chronic disease screenings at private clinics in mid-November, with authorities offering incentives to patients and doctors for treatment goals.
The government on Monday announced more than 200 family doctors had signed up to the scheme to ease the burden on the strained public healthcare system, as Deputy Secretary for Health Eddie Lee Lik-kong emphasised the importance of prevention in battling chronic diseases.
“We hope that with this scheme, people who were previously not motivated to do the screening will come forward, and we can achieve the goal of early detection,” he said.
Residents above the age of 45 with no medical history of diabetes or hypertension can be screened for these diseases at subsidised rates from mid-November, according to the Health Bureau.
The scheme is split into two stages. For the screening stage, participants will only have to cover a co-payment fee of HK$120 (US$15), receiving a subsidy of HK$196 and free-of-charge lab tests.
But if patients are diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension, they will then proceed to the treatment stage. Any lab tests at this point would require a co-payment fee between HK$40 and HK$130.
Known as the Chronic Disease Co-Care Pilot Scheme, the initiative is part of the government’s primary healthcare strategy that aims to shift the focus from curative treatment to early prevention and management of chronic diseases.
Authorities hope this shift will ease the burden on the public healthcare system by treating mild cases in the community and having family doctors manage chronic illnesses.
According to a survey conducted by the Department of Health from 2020 to 2022, about 17 per cent of the population aged between 45 and 84 have an underlying condition of diabetes or hypertension.
Those diagnosed with pre-diabetes will be given a maximum of four subsidised consultation visits a year, while those with diabetes or hypertension will be entitled to six.
The government will cover the consultation cost of HK$166 per visit for those patients, and family doctors are recommended to charge a co-payment fee of HK$150.
Patients will receive free medication under the scheme, which covers over 40 basic drugs for regulating blood glucose and pressure levels.
Participating clinics can also buy the drugs at discounted prices and receive a subsidy of HK$105 for each patient, which the government will pay once every quarter.
Authorities are offering private doctors incentives to improve patient health under the scheme. Family doctors will receive 15 per cent of the total amount coming from the subsidy and the co-payment fee if at least 70 per cent of their patients achieve their goals of regulating blood glucose and pressure levels.
The government will review how many patients have met the target on a yearly basis.
Patients will be able to reduce their co-payment fee up to HK$150, equivalent to one consultation session, in their third year of taking part in the programme if they achieve certain targets. Such goals include monitoring and uploading their health reports to the eHealth app and attending follow-up consultations regularly.
The introduction of the latest scheme comes as the city evaluates how to deal with an ageing population. According to the government’s Primary Healthcare Blueprint document released last December, the number of residents aged 65 and over will increase by 4 per cent annually until 2030.
An estimated 31 per cent of the population, or 2.52 million people, will fall into that age bracket in 2039. By 2039, the Hospital Authority will have to handle 3 million patients with chronic diseases.