How Union Medical Healthcare became Hong Kong’s best in the business
Union Medical Healthcare Ltd is the largest aesthetic medical service provider in Hong Kong. Founded in 2005 by CEO Mr. Eddy Tang, the company started with just one building housing a single doctor, and UMH boasts 29 locations with 44 doctors within 12 years. A medical-centric business from the beginning, UMH has been able to differentiate itself from beauty salons and spas thanks to the reliability inherent in having medical professionals on hand – professionals who are committed to the company’s values and protocols.
UMH offers a wide range of aesthetic, medical, dental, chiropractic and health management services, having become number one for injections in Hong Kong and Hong Kong’s Top Service Brand of 2016. Importantly, the business was set up by a team with diversified backgrounds in business, beauty, and technology, which has contributed enormously to UMH’s success. Tang has over 13 years of experience in the beauty industry, CIO Mr. Ben Luk spent more than 12 years with Google, COO Mr. Gabriel Lee was with Cathay Pacific for 14 years, and Mr. Vam Cheng, General Manager of the Medical Department, has over 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry having worked in Allergan.
This extensive familiarity with the necessary industries has ensured enormous growth and a bright future for UMH. Ms. Karen Chui is the director of Corporate Finance and Investor Relations at the company, with a decade of investment banking and healthcare experience behind her, and speaks to Business Review Asia about how this enviable level of expansion has been achieved.
“Our strength is to offer medical service embedded with customer service,” she says. “We are the best in Hong Kong because we offered diversified services and the company is managed by a centralized system, while beauty salons are trying to enhance themselves through medical study or employment of medical practitioners, or clinic chains setup by one or two doctors fighting to extend its medical service offerings – customer service is as important to us as medical safety.
“We’re not just any other consumer company you can buy products from and go. Our customers rely on our professionalism, they like our service and our brand, and we will be expanding our medical expertise to continue to stand out from other players.”
UMH sells treatment packages in advance, and it is the first in its sector to introduce the concept of a seven day cooling off period, whereby customers are eligible for a refund without explanation within seven days and there is no incentive for UMH staffs to attempt overselling or forcing customers to buy a particular package, because patients have an escape clause regardless, and that patients are comfortable and confident in their choice.
It is a testament to this confidence that 83 percent of UMH’s key clients had unfinished packages in 2015 purchased new packages in 2016, which is an important KPI for the company to achieve because approximately 70 percent of revenue comes from these key clients in 2016. The minority of clients come to UMH through external referees, and thanks to its reputation as a high-quality service, very little advertising is required.
Another rule UMH has implemented which adds to the quality of its service is to treat all staff equally in terms of their medical knowledge; even if theirs is extensive, UMH chooses to assume they know nothing so everybody receives an equal two weeks of full-time training spanning various modules.
“We have to nurture them and ensure they know overselling isn’t what we want,” Chui explains. “In terms of the medical modules, our doctors take the lead on training about medications, side effects, injections, and there is an annual emergency drill where our staffs are trained on protocols in case of emergency. We also enjoy the privileged to be trained by the pharmaceutical companies directly on medications and equipment.”
“Unlike other service providers where you get no personal service or can hardly book a place to enjoy the services they paid for, we encouraged our clients to make advance treatment bookings. Our consultants also follow up with clients to make sure they’re happy with us, and if the medical condition escalates, a doctor will be contacted. We are to respond to complaints in 48 hours, it is a gesture to show that we value and respect our clients. Most of our customers are paying out of pocket, so they have high demands on the level of quality.”
Customers can even transfer to another consultant or doctor if they are unhappy with their service; according to Chui, customers trust the brand they generally trust all of the staff: “Because we’re number one in the industry, we must do the best we can over time to retain that,” she says. “The Hong Kong government is issuing guidelines that will allow them more control over the use of medical aesthetic equipment and of the doctors and delivery of services, but we have no issue we only choose the best for our customers. We welcome the type of management that means inappropriate service providers will be eliminated.”
A large element of the ever-improving relationship between UMH and customers is the betterment of its technology, specifically the iPads it uses for the centralisation of information. “It was challenging to roll out the iPads five years ago,” says Chui. “Standalone clinics might not be so efficient in business and operations. A lot of people in the industry agreed with our vision and admire our system and wanted it too.”
While the change was easy enough for the behind-the-scenes technology experts, making it an integral part of the customer communication process and efficient management were trickier – but the advance in technology was necessary for UMH. “We believe systematic management is the key to a sustainable and scalable expansion. None of my senior management are doctors,” Chui explains, “However, we respect doctors and treat them as partners, and we do want to make a difference in terms of how the industry can grow to be even healthier – offering professional medical services embedded with customer service."
UMH intends to expand further and with far more aggression. Chui says that it is the strategy for UMH to achieve 15 percent annual growth for the next 3-5 years with the increase in service floor area together with the consolidation of the fragmented market in Hong Kong. The dental business began in late 2013 and has proved hugely successful, so the next step is to introduce even more choice and versatility to the company’s services. The PRC business only commenced two years ago, and UMH is looking forward to play a key role to this underdeveloped market in the near future. Of course, the business’s most important relationships is with its medical professionals, and we work hard to retain their loyalty; with no doctors, there are no patients.
“On top of basic training, our doctors receive additional training externally via our international medical counterparts, and this is part of the reasons we are able to retain them,” Chui concludes. “Apart from the monetary interest, we provide an element to enhance themselves in their medical expertise, which they would then be able to deliver those new skills to the customers.”
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.