Medical-social service network can enhance holistic well-being
This article appeared originally in the China Daily on 30 March, 2023.
Authors: Dicky Chow, Researcher, Xia Nan, Assistant Researcher, and Dorothy Yeung, Research Intern at Our Hong Kong Foundation.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has released its Primary Healthcare Blueprint to shift the current treatment-oriented healthcare structure and mindset toward one that is prevention-focused and community-centric. The blueprint highlights the establishment of a community-based primary healthcare system, the strengthening of primary healthcare governance, and the consolidation of primary healthcare resources to enhance the overall health status of residents through the provision of an integrated healthcare service.
Holistic well-being requires support beyond medical services
Before looking into the local situation and overseas examples, it is important to take note of the definition of health. According to the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. To this end, medical treatment is not the only necessity. We need both medical and social support to improve holistic well-being, which seeks to provide holistic care through connecting physical, mental and social aspects of health. Multifarious social services, such as viewing art, gardening, and nutrition and diet consultation, also play a role in helping residents broaden their horizons and cultivate positivity, thereby enabling healthy living.
Various organizations already provide readily accessible social services in the community setting. For instance, District Elderly Community Centres provide volunteering opportunities and leisure activities. Many local organizations also arrange various events to meet the needs of the elderly, including museum visits, chats, outings and picnics, to assuage late-life loneliness for older people’s overall well-being.
Nevertheless, there is a lack of effective coordination of social services. Residents face considerable challenges in obtaining social care information and support from the medical sector. Inadequate coordination between medical and social services results in care fragmentation and hinders integrated healthcare access.
Strengthen district-based service networks
Different health systems globally have accumulated experience in simultaneously providing medical and social services. For instance, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service established primary care networks (PCNs) at local levels to connect healthcare providers and community services, including public and private general practitioners, mental health support, community nursing, pharmacies, hospitals and volunteering opportunities. Apart from offering treatment-related care, such as chronic disease management and speech therapy, PCNs also refer users to social services available in the community, such as mental health support and access to sports centers. With a diverse range of services linked by each local network, citizens receive comprehensive care within their neighborhood to improve health via a multipronged approach.
Better coordination of community resources
Since 2019, the HKSAR government has set up District Health Centres (DHCs) and DHC Expresses (DHCEs) in all districts to render community-based primary healthcare services. DHCs link up service providers in the community to develop a localized service network that aims to offer extensive support to residents in addressing their complex health needs. The existing network, however, focuses principally on medical needs, drawing in service providers including traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, physiotherapists and dietitians in a bid to coordinate district-based medical services.
Emulating the success of their overseas counterparts, DHCs should strengthen connections with social service providers in the community to offer residents comprehensive support spanning medical and social needs. Potential partners include social enterprises, organizations providing rehabilitation services, and operators of community cultural and leisure facilities. Through a more extensive scope of services, the coordinating role of DHCs can come into full play by improving residents’ accessibility to the community-based healthcare and social services that best correspond with their needs. As such, district resources may be harnessed better to foster holistic well-being.
Based on the direction set by the blueprint, we recommend that the HKSAR government strengthen the role of DHCs by fully leveraging community resources within their respective service networks. Through a multisectoral range of service access, the healthcare system can integrate different sectors for the provision of more-inclusive health-related services. Thereafter, Hong Kong residents may be able to lead “healthier and happier lives”.