Some hospitals in Hong Kong have piloted an online consultation scheme using videoconferencing tools to conduct patient followups. It comes as non-urgent medical services at public hospitals are cut amid the growing coronavirus outbreak.

Doctors from six departments at the Kowloon East cluster used the videoconferencing platform Zoom to meet and offer consultations for non-urgent patients. As of last month, a total of 32 patients had tried the free service.

videoconferencing consultation
Doctors demonstrate an online consultation session at the press conference, Photo: RTHK screenshot.

At a press conference on Sunday, Cheng Hung-kai, the information technology coordinator at the cluster, said outpatient and surgery appointments at public hospitals have been postponed as they adjusted manpower to cope with the demands of the pandemic. The new initiative also aims at enhancing social distancing and reducing the risk of patients getting infected.

Peter Ku, head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the United Christian Hospital and Tseung Kwan O Hospital, said his department had to reschedule appointments for 6,000 patients since January. He admitted that online consultation requires time-consuming preparation and has limitations as doctors cannot conduct physical checks, but he said the initiative would ease the burden on the department after the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are in this difficult time [when] our patients cannot come. If we have time to consult a portion of patients first, when the outbreak is over and we have to catch up with a lot of rescheduled patients, our pressure will be much lower,” Ku said.

Peter Ku
Peter Ku. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

There have been over one million confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally, with a death toll of over 69,000. Hong Kong, meanwhile, has recorded 890 cases and four deaths from the SARS-like disease.

Ku said his department has been “testing the water” with patients in a stable condition, but those with urgent needs who require equipment for a checkup would still have to meet their doctors in person.

When asked about concerns over breaches of data, Cheng said the online meetings would not be recorded or saved. The Hospital Authority would also review privacy issues and add encryption to ensure safety.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.