The HKSAR Policy Address 2021 and 2022 proposed the amendment of the Supplementary Medical Professions Ordinance (Cap 359) to allow patients gaining direct access to allied healthcare services without doctors’ referrals, which has ignited a heated debate in the community. While the proposed change may shorten patients’ waiting times and prevent treatment delays by allowing people to have professional healthcare services in Hong Kong, some stakeholders have raised their concern about patient safety following the changes. To gain a better understanding of the benefits and impacts of such changes, the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at PolyU and the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine co-organized a symposium on April 1, 2023 to invite different stakeholders, including a legislative council member, physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and academicians, to discuss the safety and effectiveness of direct access to multidisciplinary services. The symposium comprised two sessions.
In the first session, Prof. Gilberto Leung (President, Hong Kong Academy of Medicine) acknowledged the presence of inconsistent opinions from different stakeholders about the proposed amendment. He hoped that through the symposium, participants could gain a deeper understanding of the benefits and impacts of direct access to healthcare services on different stakeholders. Meanwhile, Prof. Hector Tsang (Cally Kwong Mei Wan Professor in Psychosocial Health, Chair Professor of Rehabilitation Sciences and Head, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, PolyU) facilitated guest speakers and audiences to discuss various pragmatic and academic issues associated with treatment effectiveness and patient safety, and to explore the benefits of direct access to healthcare services.
Dr Hon David Lam (Legislative Council Member (Medical and Health Services), HKSAR) gave a brief introduction regarding the amendment of the Supplementary Medical Professions Ordinance, and highlighted the benefits of direct access service to the public. He also shared his experiences and insights on this topic. Dr Sheung-wai Law (President, The Hong Kong College of Orthopaedic Surgeons) briefly introduced how they had been working with physiotherapists to provide safe and effective care by triaging patients with low back pain to different secondary and tertiary cares in the Hospital Authority over the last decade. He also shared the pros and cons of implementing the direct access to healthcare service in the future.
The second session of the symposium involved four speakers from different healthcare disciplines, including Mr Ricardo Lai (Director, Rica Rehabilitation and Consultancy Service Limited), Prof. Regina Sit (Associate Professor of Practice in Family Medicine, The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong), Dr Timmy Chan (Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Anaesthesiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong), and Mr. Kenneth Au-Yeung (Founder, Healing Hands Physiotherapy Centre). They discussed the feasibility and limitations of direct access to healthcare service from different professional perspectives, including safety measures while treating patients, treatment effectiveness, and optimization of treatment plans.
Prof. Tsang delivered the closing speech and expressed that the symposium had made a significant contribution to the continuous evolution and development of the local healthcare industry. The guest speakers and audiences candidly shared their views and raised questions from their perspectives, which allowed participants to gain a multifaceted understanding of the amendment. The symposium highlighted the benefit of having a multidisciplinary platform to discuss the implementation of the direct access to healthcare service so as to enhance the safety and effectiveness of healthcare services in Hong Kong. The success of this symposium is an important milestone for the development of the local healthcare industry and academia. The insights gained from this event have laid the foundation for the discussion of future medical development or reform.