Private health operators being brought into regulatory fold

On November 15, the LegCo passed the Private Healthcare Facilities Bill. Four types of private healthcare facilities, namely hospitals, day procedure centres, clinics and health services establishments, will be subject to the regulation.

No more cowboys; corraling the industry

The new regulatory regime requires these facilities to be licensed. The licensed facilities will have to comply with corporate governance, complaint management, price transparency, infection control and other requirements.

The Private Healthcare Facilities Bill was submitted to the LegCo by the government in June last year. Now an ordinance, it will be gazetted on November 30.

“The new ordinance will further protect patient safety and consumer rights through the introduction of a new regulatory regime for private healthcare facilities. It will also facilitate the sustainable development of the healthcare system,” says Prof Sophia Chan, Secretary for Food and Health.

“We will commence the regulatory regime in phases based on the types of PHFs and their risk levels. Sufficient time would be allowed for existing operators to get prepared for the new regulatory regime,” she adds.

For the licensing part, the registration for private hospitals will begin in 2019. For day procedure centres and clinics, it will be 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Before the registration comes, day procedure centres and clinics will need to apply for a provisional licence to operate before they obtain a full licence.

Show me the money (I will pay)

One major focus is price transparency, which is one of the key elements in the new ordinance. Patients have long been complaining about the opaque pricing system of private medical institutions.

Under the new requirement, the licensee must inform the public of the prices of chargeable items and services the facility provides.

For hospitals, the licensee must also implement a budget estimate system, and to publish historical statistics on the fees and charges of certain treatments and procedures.

Making hospitals predict costs

Since October 2016, a pilot programme has been rolled out to enhance price transparency for private hospitals.

“The pilot programme covers three price transparency measures, namely the provision of budget estimates, publication of fee schedules and publication of historical bill size statistics,” Ms Kimmy Man, an officer at the Food and Health Bureau, tells Harbour Times.

“We will work out the details of the price transparency measures based on the experience gained during the pilot programme,” she adds.

Despite the first step taken, healthcare insurers say there remain inconsistencies in how pricing data is published to the patients. Prices for inpatient and outpatient procedures also vary a great deal.

“More guidance is needed from the regulator to private providers, such as what data to publish, in what format and to what depth,” international healthcare group Bupa tells Harbour Times. “This would help create more comparability and standardization.”

Not just pricing; operations too

The new ordinance also sets out explicitly what those in charge of the licensed facilities should do.

The licensee is responsible for ensuring compliance and setting up rules. Meanwhile, the chief medical executive who takes charge of the day-to-day administration should implement these rules.

Furthermore, complaints will be handled at both local and centralized levels. The facility must set up internal procedures to handle complaints. On the other hand, there will be an independent Committee on Complaints against Private Healthcare Facilities to look into complaints cannot be solved at the source.

Misconduct on the part of a private medical institution will result in suspension of service or even cancellation of the licence. There is no indication that public health facilities would face similar sanctions for similar infractions.