Building a Better Public Healthcare System with Numbers: Dr Jimmy Leung

Dr Jimmy Leung (MPH Part-time - Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Class of 2019) is a psychiatrist and had been a specialist under the Hospital Authority for more than 10 years. But on his office desk today are not patient files or medical reports, but building plans and architectural drawings. The people coming into his office are not patients, but engineers and architects and other stakeholders involved in the redevelopment of the United Christian Hospital, since Dr Leung is now part of the team responsible for devising the plans for the project, scheduled to complete in 2025.

While not the type of work usually associated with doctors, Dr Leung’s current responsibilities as Senior Manager of one of Planning and Commissioning teams at the Hospital Authority do fully leverage his medical background and academic training. “Healthcare is a basic need for people,” he said. “And the most important element in the design of a hospital’s layout and facilities is how well it serves this need. How many wards or beds do we need in the new buildings? How should we place equipment for maximum service efficiency? A doctor’s insight is essential for answering these questions.”

This interesting segue in his career followed a decision he made in 2017 to enroll in the Master of Public Health (MPH) offered by The Jockey School of Public health and Primary Care at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Though he already held a Master of Health Management from Australia, Dr Leung was keen to develop his administrative and statistical expertise in the local Hong Kong context, ultimately aiming to combine his medical and administration competencies to contribute to Hong Kong’s public healthcare system.

He chose The Chinese University of Hong Kong for its reputation as one of the top institutions for studying biostatistics. “I was particularly attracted to the programme for its strong focus on data,” he said, “and the fact that its comprehensive curriculum is designed to equip graduates with the research and analytical skills needed for addressing practical issues in public health management.” The interdisciplinary nature of the programme, and the breadth of skills taught – from clinical and health research and reporting to practical patient care management and policy making – made it a clear choice for Dr Leung at that juncture of his career.

The programme enabled Dr Leung to develop a high sensitivity to data, and honed his skill in interpreting data for better needs projection and service planning. “Statistics enable us to forecast medical service needs more accurately. When it comes to projecting how much resources we need to put into a hospital to ensure it can accommodate the service demand, we can't rely on intuition. Numbers help us make sense of the objective at hand, understand the obstacles, and formulate well-justified decisions and recommendations.” Apart from the taught courses, the programme also gives MPH students an opportunity to conduct a supervised independent research project on a topic they of their choice. Dr Leung completed his capstone research project on a “Systematic Review on the Use of Electronic Health Records in the Collection of Epidemiological Data in Primary Care,” under the supervision of Dr Pui-hong Chung.

“Dr Chung is an expert in this field and gave me a lot of valuable advice,” said Dr Leung. “All in all, pursuing this degree was a humbling experience. The faculty, curriculum and research opened a world of new knowledge to me, especially new cross-speciality techniques I will need for tackling local public health issues. At the same time, I was able to build on what I already knew and form useful new insights.” Armed with this new knowledge, Dr Leung became an ideal candidate for advising the United Christian Hospital expansion plan from a medical service and public health management perspective. He took on his current position in 2019, responsible for providing strategic, evidence-based counsel to the redevelopment project team. In addition to discussing plans with the engineers and contractors on his team, his work also involves communicating frequently with the Government Property Agency, Transport Department, and Drainage Services Department to discuss the works plan. He has learned the distinctive jargon used by each government department and developed successful strategies for communicating with them, a skill that he also developed during his studies at SPHPC.

“Inside the classrooms of my MPH programme, I learned alongside a diverse group of people - social workers, nurses, doctors. Studying together with professionals from all walks of life trained me to work effectively with different audiences, a skill that is proving to be extremely useful in my collaborative work today,” Dr Leung said.

Dr Leung played a role in securing funding approval for HK$16.2 billion from the Legislative Council for the refurbishment project in June 2020. Once the works and nearby facilities are completed in 2025, the enhanced and expanded United Christian Hospital is expected to provide a comprehensive range of medical services for residents of Kwun Tong and Sai Kung.

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Reflecting on his career progression and his role in shaping Hong Kong’s public health services, Dr Leung said, “To establish a sound public healthcare system in any society, decision-makers must first understand the needs of those whom the system serves. Doctors like myself can act as the go-between. I am able to analyse and comprehend the medical exigencies of modern society, and translate this insight into actionable information to stakeholders from other professional disciplines. We can then agree on the development direction of our health services together, then pool our respective expertise to drive systematic change.”

Reaching for one of the building plans on his desk, Dr Leung added, “Today I can look at these plans and determine whether they can meet the needs of the public. Thanks to the Master of Public Health programme, my statistical knowledge is much more substantial, my vision is much broader, and I am in the best position to translate what I have learned into real actions that can improve public health service for our society.”