Technology holds key to healthcare

Technology holds key to healthcare

The epic fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the public’s growing healthcare needs in the face of perennial issues like an aging population demand high-level intergovernmental collaboration and coordination across the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

The call came from industry leaders and experts at a panel discussion themed “Reshaping Healthcare Sector amid COVID-19”, held as part of the Greater Bay Area Conference — GBA: The Way Forward co-organized by China Daily and the Silk Road Economic Development Research Center in Hong Kong on Nov 18.

They visualized the role that ever-changing technology can play in making the next big story unfold in the healthcare business.

“For most Asian and Chinese-speaking areas, the healthcare delivery system is typically and continues to be a high or ultra-high volume system, which means fairly high vulnerability to cross-infection in the face of an epidemic like COVID-19. This is the pre-existing condition for healthcare services in the Bay Area,” said Ko Wing-man, former secretary for food and health of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.

The implication, therefore, will be reflected in the continued adoption of various people flow control and infection control measures in different healthcare sectors, even when the pandemic is to cease, in whatever sense, he said.

“The healthcare system must adjust and define the set of baseline infection control measures and be prepared to maintain them for a much longer period of time,” Ko noted.

“The continued adoption of stringent infection control and social-distancing measures is certainly a strong driver for the development and adoption of innovation and technology-based, innovative models of care delivery. Such initiatives are indeed well underway.”

Meanwhile, cross-boundary teleconsultation services, together with a structured delivery of medical supplies, are also underway.

“The provision of teleconsultation and high levels of the so-called tiered medical care services would require further innovations, such as the establishment of teleconsultation centers in different Bay Area cities with video conferencing and diagnostics support,” Ko said.

However, at present, there are still unresolved barriers or difficulties. In the context of medical, legal liability and professional patents, “it would be timely for governments of the Bay Area cities, including Hong Kong, to come together and establish the legal and professional framework to facilitate the development of I&T and an artificial intelligence-based new model of delivery of healthcare services”, Ko added.

Clifford Pang Lun-kee, president of Clifford Group and Clifford Hospital, said the development of healthcare services in the Bay Area reinforces the theme of closer collaboration across the region.

“Both the Guangdong municipal government and the HKSAR government need to formulate policies for the development of healthcare services in the Bay Area to bolster such a vision,” he urged.

He believes that Hong Kong’s biggest competitive edges in the healthcare sector lie in its “international practices, advanced technology and high-end medical service experiences”.

For the Chinese mainland, whose medical industry has undergone more than two decades of development, it is well on its way to “tiered diagnosis and treatment, complete discipline construction, advanced technology, international service standards, as well as better healthcare and disease-prevention services as required by the public”, Pang said.

In recent years, the nation has bankrolled sterling efforts in information and intelligence technologies that could essentially blaze a new trail in the healthcare sector and meet the growing healthcare needs of the public.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the disruptive technologies have waved magic wands at the forefront of the fight against the virus, with many internet platform-based medical enterprises offering teleconsultations through their WeChat official accounts, mobile applications and online platforms.

Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, highlighted the sheer power of technology. He said the very first thing that came to his mind at the panel discussion was technology. But he was also concerned that Hong Kong may lag behind in such a field.

Unlike the mainland where telemedicine has played a significant role in serving patients and medicines are delivered all the way to doorsteps because of powerful logistics support, Hong Kong is still deemed a tiny, densely-populated city with no need for all sorts of things.

Wu firmly believes that Hong Kong experts should put their heads together to think about how they could take advantage of the technology of telemedicine and how logistics could better support telemedicine.

Wilson Tang, chief executive of BOC Group Life Assurance Co Ltd, told the conference that perennial issues such as aging population will be a big push for the healthcare and medical insurance businesses.

He recalled that in the 1980s, a larger part of Hong Kong’s working population had ever-increasing productivity. However, demographics show that what the city faces today is a growing population which will retire soon.

Based on that projection, in the next 20 years, people aged above 65 will account for 30 percent of Hong Kong’s population, and the working population will be much smaller than those nearing retirement because of the city’s low birth rate. The mainland is also facing the same problem, he said.

Among the thousands of people who made a beeline to ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak to join the battle against the virus in Wuhan, Hong Kong businessman Tse Chun-ming hit the road all the way to Wuhan from Hong Kong on Jan 22 — the day when he learned that the Hubei provincial capital would be shut down.

Tse, in his 60s and chairman of Hong Kong Asia Medical Holdings, founded the Wuhan Asia General Hospital in 2018 and the Wuhan Asia Heart Hospital in 1999.

At the forum, his son Steven Tse Siu-kei, general manager of Wuhan Asia General Hospital, shared memories of the arduous battle against the pandemic, saying he is grateful to the HKSAR government and numerous organizations for their support during the crisis.

Meanwhile, China’s efforts to expedite technology infrastructure construction have shown remarkable results and empowered digitalization to become a new driving force of economic growth, experts and business executives said.

The digital economy’s contribution to GDP growth in the United States and South Korea has exceeded 91.8 percent and 100.8 percent, respectively, according to a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

The percentage is about 60 percent in China, Germany, Britain, France, and India.

Ba Shusong, managing director and chief China economist at Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd, said that digital related industries have become an essential component of the global economy.

The boom in e-commerce, online education, and online medical services amid the COVID-19 outbreak also reflected digitalization’s important role in boosting domestic consumption, he noted.

He said that China’s online retail sales reached 8 trillion yuan (US$1.2 trillion) in the first nine months of 2020, increasing 9.7 percent year-on-year.

Ashley Galina Dudarenok, founder of China-focused social media agency Alarice, and China insights and training company ChoZan, described living on the Chinese mainland as “living in the world beyond tomorrow”, thanks to the wide application of new technologies.

She mentioned the use of virtual anchors and virtual livestreamers during the nationwide Double 11 Shopping Festival.

The Bay Area is leading the way in technology infrastructure. Gordon Guo, deputy head of the internet and enterprise solution division at China Mobile Hong Kong, said that the company’s 5G service had covered 94 percent of the urban area in Hong Kong and more than 80 percent of the population.

AI also plays an important part in new infrastructure and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Max Yuan, founder, chairman and CEO of Xiao-i, a leading artificial intelligence technology company in China.

He stressed that it is not only about one industry, or only to create new industries, but that AI can serve as an enabler to transform and upgrade conventional industries.

Allen Yeung, former government chief information officer, founder and CEO of Intelli Global Corp Ltd, a big-data analytics services company, noted that under urbanization, cities are overloaded with people, creating issues such as infectious diseases and pollution.

Hence, to develop a smart city under the new infrastructure push will provide a better and smarter way for the government to manage the city, Yeung said. But an appropriate framework and standards are missing for different cities to summarize and replicate their experiences and practices, he said.

Tony Tsang, CEO of DYXnet Group, a carrier-neutral network service provider, thinks the Bay Area has similar resources to Silicon Valley, where a lot of the cities are very effective, and have a clear division of labor, from manufacturing and technology to software development.

He believes that with Hong Kong’s international vision and renowned experience in financial services, the city can contribute to the strategic financial planning in new infrastructure development.