NEWBURYPORT — Anna Jaques Hospital has so much to offer to the Greater Newburyport region that it's not uncommon for staff there to give medical professionals from across the region tours of the facility. But it's far less common when they offer a tour to medical professionals from halfway across the planet.
Yesterday, medical professionals and administrators from Hong Kong and Mongolia spent much of the morning touring the hospital and then meeting with the staff there. Those visiting included Dr. Ganzorig Baatar, an oncologist/surgeon from Mongolia; Cheryl Law, a hospital administrator from Hong Kong; Dr. Michelle Cheung, a Chinese medicine doctor from Hong Kong; Louise Sin, a registered nurse; Dr. Jennifer Mok, an ophthalmologist from Hong Kong; and the team leader, Dr. Vito Lee.
The six, who are part of the Rotary International group exchange team, were in the region from May 6 to 10. In addition to a stop in Newburyport, the team visited hospitals in Maine and New Hampshire. In between, they spent the weekend eating lunch at Boston's famous Durgin Park restaurant and taking in a Red Sox game.
After meeting with Anna Jaques Hospital President Delia O'Connor, the team toured the building and then split up to meet with counterparts in their own fields.
Following their visit to the hospital, the team traveled to Glenn's Restaurant & Cool Bar on Merrimac Street for a luncheon with Newburyport Rotarians. At the luncheon, members took turns talking about their interests outside of medicine, their families, and then about the Hong Kong and Mongolian medical systems.
They also spent a few moments singing a few bars of the Neil Diamond hit "Sweet Caroline," played during each Red Sox game.
The 40 or so local Rotarians who filled a majority of the restaurant gasped when told, for example, that one day in a Hong Kong public hospital inpatient unit costs a patient between $9 and $13. Also leaving an impression was the fact that someone without health insurance can walk into a public Hong Kong hospital and expect to pay around $6 for general outpatient care. That includes lab tests, prescriptions and other services, according to the team members.
There are some downsides, however, they said. Hospitals are far more crowded in Hong Kong than in the United States, meaning wait times are longer and there is less privacy. For example, it's not uncommon to have several patients, as many as eight, sharing a large, single room while staying at a hospital.
But back on the plus side, the average life expectancy in Hong Kong is 86 for women and 80 for men, both longer than in the United States. In 2007, the life expectancy for U.S. men was 75 and 80 for U.S. women.
A Newburyport Rotarian asked why Hong Kong residents enjoyed longer average life spans than Americans.
One team member said bluntly that Hong Kong diets are healthier than American ones. Another team member said that because Hong Kong has such an efficient public transportation system, people walk more than Americans, who drive from place to place.
After the lunch was over, Mok said American hospitals are very well-equipped with great emphasis on making patients comfortable. She said that despite the differences, level of standards in both countries were "pretty similar."
Asked about her visit to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox, Mok said she loved it when the crowd sang together and took turns standing up and down to form the well-known wave pattern.
"I liked the atmosphere," Mok said. "The hot dogs were great, too."
Mok and other team members interviewed about the game insisted they were rooting for the Red Sox and were pleased that they defeated their opponents, the Minnesota Twins, 9-6.
Rotarian and Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Ann Ormond said hearing about the low cost of Hong Kong hospitals and the relative good health of Hong Kong residents compared to Americans was a sobering moment.
"It's a wake-up call for Americans," Ormond said.