Matilda International Hospital's quality healthcare has patients knocking at their door

 

A woman from New South Wales, Australia was on a long trip across Asia recently when she had a cycling accident in Mainland China and needed emergency medical treatment. Uncertain about the quality of healthcare there and worried about the language barrier, she asked to be flown to Matilda International Hospital in Hong Kong.

“It was very fortunate that her group did their research on the internet about hospitals around the region before they embarked on their trip – just in case they had an accident. She broke her leg but she didn’t want to be treated in China. And it would have been very traumatic for her to fly eight hours to go back home. So, her companions decided to bring her to us,” recalls Linda Burgoyne, executive director of communications & clinical operations at Matilda International Hospital (MIH).

The woman was among 20 percent of patients from abroad who arrive in the hospital annually for treatment. Like most hospitals in Hong Kong that have limited capacity, MIH (with just 102 beds) does not actively seek out medical travellers. Nevertheless, the number of overseas-based patients has been rising incrementally over the years.

A century of healthcare

Established in 1907, the hospital marked its centenary last year and is considered  as one of the upmarket hospitals as well as one of the best providers of maternity care in the territory. Overlooking the South China Sea and situated along Mount Kellet Road at The Peak, the hospital is sitting on prime real estate – an enduring legacy from husband and wife Granville Sharpe and Matilda Lincolne.

Eighty percent of its patient base are Hong Kong residents both local Cantonese and expatriates – mostly Europeans, North Americans and Australians – who live and work in the city.

“Our differentiation is that our healthcare is very westernised. We fill this niche because most of our clients have been overseas or have read about western medicine, and when they come to Hong Kong, they look for a hospital that meets their needs,” Burgoyne notes.

While best known for its first-rate maternity and baby care services, MIH also excels in general surgery like colonoscopy and endoscopy, primary healthcare and family practice with a full range of specialist clinics – ENT, respiratory medicine, asthma and allergies, plastic surgery, pain management and urology among others. The hospital has a staff of 120 clinical nurses and six general practitioners as well as over 500 doctors who have admitting privileges at MIH.

“It is really hard to pin down the number because we are recruiting nurses all year round and we have been regularly vetting doctors who apply for admitting privileges at the hospital.”

Burgoyne points out that that challenge is not just about finding qualified healthcare providers who are hard enough to find in the territory.

“Our standards are very high because our clients’ expectations are up there and we need to meet those expectations. It is like going to a five-star hotel and you expect that you are going to get very good care. So in our maternity, for instance, it is no good to get just a qualified midwife. It has to be a midwife who is able to relate and spend time with our clients and is willing to go the extra mile.”

For this reason, the hospital hires the best medical staff it can find from different parts of the world. The combined skills and experience of these healthcare professionals, supplemented by internal and external training provided by the hospital, keep MIH fresh and up-to-date in healthcare management and provision.

Beyond its core competency

For over a decade, the hospital has been flexing its muscles beyond its traditional specialty.

In 1997, MIH was the first hospital in Hong Kong to package what it calls an “executive health assessment programme” for both corporate and individual clients. Private executive suites have been built where patients undergoing executive check-ups can have all the doctors, technicians, medical tests and equipment they need in one place. The private suites enable patients to have some privacy and allows busy corporate executives to squeeze a bit of office work as the rooms are fitted with an office and a comfortable sitting area.

At around the same time, the hospital started seeking accreditation to ensure that its facilities and services meet international standards. When MIH opened its state-of-the-art “ultra-clean” operating theatres in 1999, the hospital became the first in the city to obtain ISO 9002 accreditation for quality management.

The following year in 2000, the hospital passed TRENT clinical and health and safety accreditation – the first hospital in Hong Kong to do so. In 2002, the hospital obtained the OHSAS 18001 certification for occupational health and safety.

“We are now in the process of needing to apply for another accreditation. But as you know the government wants to have one common accreditation for private and public hospitals in Hong Kong. So at this time, it would be prudent for us to wait until the government comes out with its decision. We would not want to be in a situation where we choose an accreditation that the government hasn’t picked,” Burgoyne explains.

MIH entered a new era with the advent of the millennium. In its centenary decade, the hospital saw its profile rising in the area of orthopaedics as well as physiotherapy.

Over the last few years since 2002, the hospital has been involved in pioneering work in orthopaedics in the region (see box on page 25). A corollary of this is the development of its physiotherapy department that now offers one of the most advanced rehabilitation programmes in Hong Kong.

“We have a dynamic group of orthopaedic surgeons who have continued to do exceptional work. To support them, we will be bringing in another MRI scanner for our orthopaedic work. We believe orthopaedics will always be a dynamic specialty for us,” says Burgoyne.

Reputation brings medical travellers

As far back as Burgoyne – who has worked in the hospital for over 12 years – remembers, MIH has attracted its share of overseas patients.

“We have a very good reputation of being an international hospital. There have been patients who chose to have their babies and their surgeries here rather than have them in other hospitals in the region. I think it has a lot to do with word-of-mouth and referrals from doctors and from insurance companies,” she says.

In recent years, MIH’s growing reputation for innovative orthopaedic surgeries have brought foreign-based patients to its doors.

“Like what happened with the Australian traveller in China who broke her leg, she and her companions found us on the internet even before they flew into the region. In similar cases like this one, some insurance companies would recommend the hospital because they know that the orthopaedic doctors here are good.”

And, of course, there are MIH’s maternity cases where mums-to-be (mostly based in China) would travel to Hong Kong to deliver their babies.

For over 20 years, the hospital has been known for its excellent hotel-type accommodation and support services for hospital stays. And it has continued to introduce other services to make both local and foreign-based patients as comfortable as possible during their confinement.

In 1998, the hospital introduced an insurance development manager who assists patients in sorting out and liaising with their insurance companies for planned admissions, and in 2000, it introduced a client relations manager who helps patients and their companions with non-medical needs and requests. The hospital also hired a full-time Japanese translator, while the other medical staff can provide services in other languages.

“The insurance development manager is actually under our communications because this is more of a support service to help patients. Sometimes, our clients’ insurance companies are based as far as Switzerland, making it hard for our clients to contact them because of the time difference. So we can help with that. We are working with more than 30 insurance companies worldwide. We have a very good relationship with them and are used to dealing with them on a day-to-day basis. Alternatively, if it is corporate medical insurance, we can talk directly with people from the company. And we do this because we do not want to stress our clients, especially patients from abroad, by giving them the added pressure of sorting out their insurance,” Burgoyne says.

She adds: “Our client relationship manager, on the other hand, is there to help with non-medical questions and requests. We understand that clients sometimes have other needs – practical needs – that they don’t want to bother doctors and nurses with.”

For medical travellers, MIH can arrange a meet-and-greet service at the airport and can help book hotel accommodation among others. But the hospital also has serviced apartments (a choice of single room, one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom apartments) within its grounds for caregiver companions and patients.  Features include cooking and laundry facilities, daily housekeeping, telephone and fax with IDD capability, cable TV VCD and DVD player, dial-up internet and an onsite restaurant.

“The number of serviced apartments vary at one time because we also allocate them to caregivers of our charity cases. But we do have them available. We have pregnant mums from China, who cannot fly after 36 weeks, come down and stay a month in the accommodation before and after discharge from the hospital. Orthopaedic patients who are well enough to be discharged but are not fit enough to fly home can use the accommodation at this point,” Burgoyne says.

“We want to make sure that our clients are well before sending them back to their home country. A lot of our clients come from China. These are expatriates who are being posted to the country and they choose to come here for their medical treatment because they are still somewhat wary about the healthcare quality in China.”

Looking forward

MIH has planned for further expansion of its clinical services in the coming years. The hospital is soon set to open its day-care unit for patients who come in for quick half-day and one-day minor surgical procedure.

“We do a lot in women’s health like fertility work and we’d like to expand on that and probably build a breast centre. In the past, we have converted a lot of our office space into clinical areas. In future, we plan to eventually build another block for clinical care, and probably another block for doctors’ accommodation onsite.”

Burgoyne explains: “Our location is fantastic but the downside of it is the amount of time our doctors spend to get here and a lot of people are worried about safety. We have 25 doctors living on the grounds at the moment so we are covered during emergency situations.”

For now, people looking for outpatient treatment can go to the Matilda Medical Centre in Central, Hong Kong’s main business hub. Opened 18 months ago, the facility offers a full range of primary and preventative healthcare service. It has become very popular particularly among corporate customers.

Asked why medical travellers would choose to come to such a pricey destination as Hong Kong, Burgoyne replies: “I think when it comes to something major like hip surgery, price is a factor but, I think, not the leading factor. You would want to go to someone with the best skills and the best quality, and because there is nowhere else that does it in the region.”

Meanwhile, MIH prides itself on, is transparency about the prices of its medical treatments and surgeries.

“We are trying to be as transparent as possible so that people know that they are not going to be hit by any hidden extras. We package it to be all-inclusive. It is on our brochures so people can budget for their treatment. Providing them with written quotes specifically helps medical travellers who need to present cost estimates to their insurance companies.”

But knowing the tight supply of hospital beds in the city, Burgoyne is realistic about Hong Kong’s prospect as a medical travel destination.

“I think overseas patients will come to Hong Kong for good quality care. I think quality care ranks very highly alongside specialised treatments that they cannot get anywhere else. Personally, I do not think it would be like Thailand where people go for all types of operations because I do not think we can compete on price,” Burgoyne observes.

She adds: “I think we can compete on quality and on innovation, things that are new that would come to Hong Kong. But I don’t think it would rival countries that could do things much cheaper.”

INNOVATIONS IN ORTHOPAEDIC HEALTH

According to Linda Burgoyne, MIH was the first hospital in Hongkong to introduce in 2002 Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (cartilage implant). From there, the hospital continues to strengthen its surgical advances in orthopaedics.

Arthroscopic and sports surgery

Arthroscopic surgery, also known as keyhole surgery, involves putting a small telescope inside a joint (shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee or ankle) and doing an operation under video guidance. A patient normally only has a few tiny skin incisions (less than 1cm long) and recovery is usually quick. Typical operations are knee meniscal repairs or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructions, shoulder stabilisations and repairs, and repair of damaged hips, wrists or ankles.

Sports surgery, on the other hand, includes keyhole surgery procedures as well as open operations on tendons such as the Achilles tendon, on nerves such as in carpal tunnel syndrome, on bones such as stress fractures, and on ligaments such as ankle ligaments.

Patients who are based overseas are normally ready to fly regionally, for instance to China and East Asia, a few days after their operation. It is possible to fly to the rest of the world at this time, but for comfort and safety, MIH recommends they stay longer in Hong Kong to recuperate.

Bermingham Hip Resurfacing (BHR) procedure

This is hip replacement specifically designed for young and active people afflicted with arthritis of the hips. BHR is also useful in young people with damaged hips caused by injury and dysplasia, infection of the joint and congenital dislocations.

The procedure is more accurate in reproducing normal hip anatomy, making dislocation rare and thus allowing more normal activities such as squatting – and even sports. The metal-on-metal bearing uses very hard carbide steel and is extremely accurately machined to reduce friction that causes debris. (Debris is the major cause of loosening and failure of joint replacement.)

Patients can return to office work in about three weeks and manual work in about three months. As for travelling, patients are advised to wait for six weeks to reduce risk.

Nucleus Replacement implant

The procedure is one of the newest treatments available to alleviate chronic back pain and to restore spinal movement brought on by a degenerative disease of the lumbar disc.

Also known as nucleoplasty, this is a minimally invasive surgical treatment to remove the nucleus of the damaged intervertebral disc and replace it with a non-metal nucleus implant. This approach allows a smaller incision and faster recovery. Not only can the normal disc height and balance of the spine be restored with increased spinal stability, but the movement can also be preserved.

Compared with the traditional fusion and artificial disc replacement, the procedure time is shorter, the incision smaller and the recovery is faster. Patients can be discharged the day after the nucleoplasty surgery, compared to one and two weeks required hospitalisation for the latter.

Patients may be required to wear a back brace after surgery and may be told to avoid repetitive bending, lifting, twisting and athletic activities while in recovery. They may also be cautioned to avoid vibrations like the one experienced when driving a car, for a period of time after the surgery.

PHYSIOTHERAPY DEPARTMENT

A natural outcome of MIH’s focus on orthopaedics, the hospital has developed a fully equipped physiotherapy centre run by an experienced team of physiotherapists. Services at the centre are offered to both in and outpatients.

Services available include:

  • Pilates – a rehabilitation programme focused on the analysis and treatment of postural, muscle and movement imbalances associated with musculoskeletal pain syndromes. It uses unique approach to mat exercises and to muscle training on specialised Pilates “slings and spring” apparatus.
  • Gyrotonic Expansion System – MIH is the first hospital in Hong Kong to introduce this advanced exercise system two years ago. Gyrotonic training is a therapeutic body conditioning system that is ideal for those who have developed poor posture or spinal movement pattern. Some hospitals overseas have included this training in the rehabilitation programme of patients who have undergone spinal surgery.

With a handle unit a pulley tower, gyrotonic equipment enables three-dimensional and rotational movement with multiple joint articulation. Unlike conventional apparatus that allows only linear and isolated movement pattern that causes uncoordinated strength, gyrotonic training develops coordinated power in muscles and strengthens ligaments and tendons through increasing range of motion.

Athletes and dancers, who want to increase flexibility, strength and conditioning of their bodies, have embraced Gyrotonic training.

FURTHER CONTENT PUBLISHED BY THIS AUTHOR

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