How Can Hong Kong Residents Make Use of Government Data in their Decision Making Process? (Case 1: Choosing a Hospital)

Various Hong Kong governmental agencies have been uploading datasets that they collected to their own websites. Hence, the establishment of the Annual Open Data Plan in 2018 has provided a comprehensive platform that consolidates their datasets, which is also updated regularly for public use.

However, according to the Hong Kong People’s View on Open Data Survey Research Report, the datasets provided by the governmental agencies are not studied by the public that frequently. The report states that in 2021, only 20% of the population in Hong Kong had ever copied, downloaded or exported a dataset from the Annual Open Data Plan website. Therefore, this post aims to use families as an example to illustrate how people can make use of some of the datasets to support their decision-making in daily life.


Which hospital should I go to?
Some people have criticized the extremely long waiting time for the Accident & Emergency (A&E) Services in Hong Kong public hospitals. People often have to wait for at least 2 hours before seeing the doctor, and this wastes people a huge amount of time just waiting for a medical consultation. The long waiting time for A&E Services in Hong Kong public hospitals not only caused delayed treatment for some of the patients, but also increased the risk of spreading infectious diseases in the hospital, especially during influenza peak seasons or pandemics. Therefore, it has been a great concern for the government.

(Hospital Authority: A&E Waiting Time Information Page)


However, this may not be the case. After checking the waiting time of the 18 public hospitals in Hong Kong, we discovered that different hospitals, although located in adjacent districts, have very different waiting times. For example, the 2 public hospitals, Queen Mary Hospital and Ruttonjee Hospital, although both of them are located at two adjacent districts (which are Central and Western District and Wan Chai District respectively), there is a large difference in the waiting hours in their A&E Services: 5 hours for Queen Mary Hospital, and 1 hour for Ruttonjee Hospital.

This is a very similar idea to when we are go shopping in a supermarket: Most supermarkets have more than one cashier, and customers can freely choose between cashiers to pay for what they purchase. In this situation, customers can observe the lengths of the queues very easily: They just have to check which is the shortest queue so as to minimize their waiting time.

Understanding the length of the queue for the A&E Services in different public hospitals may in fact much more important than that of in the supermarkets: The quality of the medical treatment depends heavily on how timely the medical treatment is. Similar to the supermarket case, when we are able to check the waiting time of all the nearby public hospitals through the website at once, in principle, we are supposed to be able to select the shortest queue in order to get the medical consultation the soonest. The shortest time required for the medical consultation simply means the waiting time for the A&E Service of the hospital plus the time for transportation.


A Simple Case Study
We can see how we can make use of this information to help with our public hospital selection through the following hypothetical case: Sally lives in Sheung Wan with her mother aged 60 or above. One day she has to take her mother to the hospital for the A&E service. The two nearby public hospitals are Queen Mary Hospital and Ruttonjee Hospital respectively.

Since the travelling time from Sally’s apartment and two hospitals are very similar, the only thing that matters would be the waiting time of the two hospitals. After she checked the HA website before leaving home, and found that the waiting time in Queen Mary Hospital is 5 hours, while that of Ruttonjee Hospital is only an hour. To ensure that her mother can see the doctor as quick as possible, Sally would choose to bring her mother to Ruttonjee Hospital.


Benefits to the Society
Hong Kong residents have been concerned with the extremely long waiting time for medical services in public hospitals. According to the statistics provided by Hospital Authority, the medical inpatient bed occupancy rate at midnight for most of the public hospitals in Hong Kong over the past few years fluctuates between 100-120%, while the desirable rate suggested by the professionals is 85%. The high bed occupancy rate means that the number of patients in these public hospitals has been exceeding the working capacity of healthcare professionals in most of the hospitals. At the same time, doctors would have a higher chance of making mistakes during medical consultations when they have worked for too long. This may cause the patients’ health to be even more dangerous.

By first taking a look at the waiting hours for the A&E Services in the public hospital near their apartment, Hong Kong residents will be able to save time by better selecting among the nearby hospitals in order to consult the doctor sooner.

This in fact benefits the hospitals too: In recent years, Hong Kong residents have been more concerned about the medical incidents that happened in Hong Kong hospitals, which are believed to be caused by their extremely long working hours and without sufficient rest. When people self-select a public hospital with a shorter waiting queue, doctors will be able to relieve their work pressure. This may also ensure the patients in different hospitals are able to get better treatments.


Economic Analysis
The case of making people moving to the shortest queue is by providing information about different queues. In the supermarket, we observe that customers automatically choose the shortest queue without the need for guidance because they can see the queues. But, when people have no idea of how long each queue is, they may just randomly choose a queue without realizing that the queue they have chosen may not be the shortest one.