Friday, January 3, 2014, 09:59
Focus HK: A few drops of the old snake oil
By Li Yao

Focus HK: A few drops of the old snake oil

Only a few of Hong Kong's health professionals come under government regulation. Practitioners in several fields are unlicensed, under qualified and sometimes incompetent. The cost to the patients of this quackery may be painful and enduring.

When Leung Kit-ping brought home bottles of capsules full of sharks’ liver oil and fish collagen, her intentions were the very best. They were HK$30,000 worth of good intentions aimed at providing enormous health benefit to her 73-year-old mother.

Leung’s mother, who was in frail health after coronary bypass surgery, took the pills, and over time began to recognize that nothing seemed to be happening. There was no significant improvement at all. Then a year later, her physician pointed out all that stuff could react adversely to a woman in her condition who frequently had to be rushed to the hospital emergency room.

The doctor wrote a letter warning of the potential health hazards posed by the supplements to the elderly patient. Then came a long dispute over a refund from the manufacturer of the diet supplements that dragged on for a year. The company advanced its own expert who appeared familiar with the products. The letter from the doctor carried the day. And the elderly got HK$25,000 refunded to her bank account.

“Without the doctor’s letter, the chances to win were really slim. And it would have been impossible to hold the company accountable,” said Leung’s brother, Ares, recalling the difficult negotiations with the company seven years ago.

People today are not any less at risk of unknowingly overdosing on dietary supplements in Hong Kong, cautioned dieticians and nutritionists. Dietary supplements, like the most popular and easily available minerals and vitamins, are generally recognized as safe, but they could create health hazards. They should never be taken in an off-hand manner but under the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.

Sylvia Lam, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Dieticians Association, said practitioners have shifted heavily from government positions to private sector employment in the past 10 years. Among the more than 300 dieticians in Hong Kong, more than 200 are in private practice. There is no government regulation or supervision of the field. Malpractice is likely to go unpunished but the damage caused by the malpractice is real and may be enduring, Lam said.

Lam said over the past three years, the association has received more than a dozen consumer complaints about dieticians holding questionable credentials. In 2011, an obese woman underwent surgery to make her stomach smaller. The surgeon referred the patient to a dietician from the same hospital group. The patient followed the dietician’s plan. For the first week, the woman was restricted to soy milk, fish soup, and porridge. Two days later, she began feeling dizzy, fatigued and shivery. A query to the dietician elicited an email response that the diet plan was a recommendation only. The doctor who had introduced her to the dietician had no answers either. The patient turned to Lam’s association to lodge a complaint. Follow-up inquiries revealed the dietician was poorly qualified. The calculation of the patient’s calorie intake was plainly wrong. The low-calorie, low-protein diet was unsuitable for her condition and could have protracted her recovery, weakened her immune system, and increased her risk of infection, Lam said.

PRE 1 2 3 NEXT

Related Article