Vietnamese patients ripped off for unnecessary medical procedures

The poster of CT scanning service in front of the General Hospital in Ha Tien Town
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Patients across Vietnam have been forced to undergo unnecessary medical examinations due to secret contracts between hospitals and suppliers of the costly healthcare equipment, a health ministry’s inspection has revealed.

One such clinic, the Ha Tien Town General Hospital in the southern province of Kien Giang, has closed an agreement with a CT scan supplier to have at least five patients taking the scanning on a daily basis.

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The unusual ‘target’ has been discovered in a nationwide investigation led by Dang Van Chinh, chief inspector of the Ministry of Health.

However, the Ha Tien hospital has in fact managed to have only three patients undergoing CT scanning every day, thus had to ‘compensate’ the supplier for violating the ‘contract’, Chinh said.

Technology abused

In Vietnam, hospitals that are unable to afford the CT scanners can look to the private sector to acquire the pricy medical equipment.

One of the most common ways is to borrow the equipment from an investor who has been awarded the contract to supply chemicals for the hospital.

The second solution is to call for donated scanners from generous benefactors, and the last is to raise money from the hospital staff to buy the equipment.

According to a recent statistics, there are over 2,600 CT scanners at hospitals across Vietnam have been equipped via any of those three methods as of March 20, according to recent statistics.

Of these, 200 machines have been found to be imposed a ‘patient use target.’

The inappropriate uses of these 200 scanners have cost the country’s health care system VND350 billion (US$15.4 million) in the 2015-16 period.

Besides CT scanners, the MRI scanning services are also being abused by many hospitals countrywide, according to the same inspection.

It has been discovered that 38-40 percent of inpatients in some private hospitals in the north-central province of Nghe An have received MRI scans during treatment, while the country’s average ratio is only 4 percent, according to Le Van Phuc, deputy head of the Vietnam’s Health Care Policy.

Pham Luong Son, deputy director of the Vietnam Social Health Insurance, said that many hospitals across the country have ‘borrowed’ scanners from chemical or medicine suppliers and set similar usage targets for the machines, along with only using products supplied by those companies.

The practice has been recorded at such provinces as Quang Ninh, Hai Phong, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Thai Binh and Ca Mau, Son elaborated.

Forced uses to recoup investment

The usage target has led to the fact that many patients who did not necessarily need CT scanning were forced to take such expensive procedure.

For instance, a female patient suffering brain ischemia had to take various unrelated examinations such as stomach X-ray scan, analysis of peripheral blood cells, blood sugar quantification, among other procedures.

The patient has also been prescribed with numerous food supplements, instead of treatment medicines.

Le Hoang Anh, director of the Department of Health in Kien Giang Province said the CT scanner at the Ha Tien General Hospital has been put into use on a pilot scheme between the clinic and the machine supplier, and the usage target is part of the agreement.

The pilot scheme will be reviewed after two years and such problems as the usage target may be resolved then, Anh said.

Lieu Khac Dung, deputy chairman of the People’s Committee of Ha Tien Town, said that his office has received many complaints regarding the wrong usage of the CT scanner at the general hospital and has asked higher authorities to investigate the matter.

It cannot be denied that the sponsored medical equipment in remote hospitals do have such advantages as providing promptly treatments for patients, who otherwise have to spend money to travel to more central hospitals.

However, due the the high cost of the equipment, the machine sponsors want to recoup investment as quickly as possible, leading to the controversial ‘usage target’, and instead still causing financial burden on the patients.

The health ministry has thus advised hospitals to opt for loan programs to buy the scanners on their own, instead of accepting sponsored machines from medical or chemical suppliers.

-Tuoi Tre News

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