COVID fears may have made people focus on fighting the coronavirus and forget about other diseases. The pandemic has arguably delayed people seeking regular health checks, and made them avoid attending medical appointments at hospitals, clinics and even medical centres. Common sense dictates that general health must not be neglected even during a prolonged public health emergency.
There have been many obstacles that have led to “hidden patients” and a delay in proper diagnosis and treatment, particularly for the elderly. The process for getting an appointment for the right check-up and navigating to the clinic can be cumbersome to some aged residents.
In view of this and to coincide with the World Kidney Day on 9 March, the Hong Kong Kidney Foundation, the Hong Kong Society of Nephrology and the Hong Kong Association of Renal Nurses set up health check stations at five Link's shopping centres, namely Lok Fu Place, Kai Tin Shopping Centre, Hoi Fu Shopping Centre, Heng On Commercial Centre and Tin Shui Shopping Centre in February. Free health check-ups services including blood glucose, blood pressure and blood lipid tests were provided for adults.
Community-level health outreach
Ng Yin-kwan (Kwan), resident of Hoi Fu Estate, who attended a free check-up session at Hoi Fu Shopping Centre, said that she visited government clinic regularly to do a health check-up, but the waiting time could be very long. Therefore, having the convenience of conducting a health check at her neighborhood shopping centre makes it more accessible.
Similarly, Poon Yuet-wah (Wah), resident of the same estate, stated that the lengthy waiting time for an appointment at government clinics makes things difficult, whereas the community outreach medical check-up service gave her an opportunity to understand if her health condition has deteriorated or not.
Approaches to deliver health care in resource-strapped communities are the focus of today’s medical services providers. To bridge the gap between hidden patients and providers, Hong Kong Kidney Foundation (the foundation) doctors and trained health workers volunteered to conduct blood testing to identity hidden patients with chronic kidney disease.
Dr Lui Siu-fai, chairman of the foundation expressed that the government estimated about one million people have chronic kidney disease. To identify the hidden prevalence of such disease in our communities is one of the foundation’s objectives. Sufferers are sometimes simply not aware they have health problems.
Sufferers of three highs: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar (diabetes) are at a greater risk for kidney disease. Severe kidney infection can lead to dangerous complications and death. At one of the recent foundation community outreach events, one hidden sufferer was identified and hurried to hospital for immediate medical treatment.
Targeted health checks for the most vulnerable
Dr Lui added that these outreach events aim to educate the general public to identify early symptoms how to prevent chronic kidney disease from progressing. One of the tips for checking kidney health is to carry out regular blood tests which can show how well the kidneys are performing in terms of their job of removing waste. Checks and tests are key to early detection and allow patients to slow the progression once diagnosed.
Dr Lui is pleased that Link supports these health checks. Since Link’s business is closely linked to the neighbourhood community, especially in locations where the shopping malls are within the communities, their service can possibly reach out to hidden sufferers.
Legislative Councillor Leung Man-kwong, who helped to liaise for one of the check-up sessions, pointed out that grassroots folks do not have convenient access to medical checks. In most cases, low-income residents who are busying at work and living far from the clinic end up not proceeding with getting a health check appointment. To bridge the gap, he hopes other primary care health providers can extend health care screening and health education to these communities before hidden sufferers’ chronic illnesses progress. More effort is needed to bring testing to the vulnerable.