By Son Nguyen in HCMC
The healthcare sector enters a new crisis these days when it is exposed in local media how the so-called traditional oriental medicine clinics have challenged State management and deceived patients in a way that amounts to robbery. Such clinics, numbering dozens throughout the country, are entirely operated by Chinese people and are all violators this way or another, days in days out during as many years, disrespecting law and disregarding ethics.
As licensed by authorities, Chinese oriental clinics, shortly referred to as Chinese clinics in local media, can only provide diagnostic and treatment services to outpatients, and can use medicinal products already approved by the Ministry of Health. Other medical services, including acupuncture and prescription of own pharmaceutical products are conditional, and such clinics must abide by provisions stated in their licenses, according to Phap Luat. However, inspections launched by health authorities in the wake of numerous complaints and legal actions by patients reveal that all Chinese-invested clinics have committed violations.
By end-2011, of the 67 oriental medicine physicians licensed in Vietnam, there were 63 Chinese doctors, or roughly 95% of the total, Nguyen Hoang Son, deputy chief of the Traditional Medicine Department under the Health Ministry, says in Vietnamnet. Most of such doctors do business in Hanoi, with over 20, and HCMC with some 15. The number is quite small, but their business has chaotically stirred up the healthcare market.
The biggest headache for both local patients and healthcare officials is the many tricks employed by such Chinese clinics to lure patients and then to cheat them so as to snatch their money. A patient in Hanoi City’s Dong Da District relates in Tuoi Tre how she approached a Chinese clinic named Maria for a regular health check, and was told that she was infected with life-threatening cancer. Due to fears instilled by the doctor, she took treatment at the clinic for three days in mid-April, and was charged a sky-high VND24.5 million, heard the meeting this Tuesday between the patient, Hanoi health inspector and the clinic. The clinic after being told of several violations by the inspectors agreed to return to the patient some VND24 million after deducting the fees for normal examination services.
In another case, a patient named Tran Duy Cuong was admitted into Trung Nam Clinic in HCMC on April 8, and immediately taken into the operating theater for a surgery just 30 minutes later, without undergoing any medical consultancy or diagnostic procedures, says an inspector on Vietnamnet.
In most cases, Chinese clinics charge excessively-high fees for treatment services they are not allowed to do, and in case patients do not have enough money, they can be put under detention until their relatives submit enough fees, according to an investigative report in Tuoi Tre.
Chinese clinics have been able to lure a large number of patients owing to strong and appealing TV commercials, especially in rural areas where the people are not well-informed. Inspections by healthcare authorities in the past two weeks reveal that these clinics have seriously violated advertising regulations when running ads with untrue content to deceive patients. TV stations are also to blame for airing such commercials without verifying them.
Though the number of authorized doctors at such clinics is small, there are always numerous physicians there, even dozens of them in each clinic, and all do not wear nametags as required as a way to cope with sudden inspections by authorities. Tien Phong says anyone can become a doctor at a Chinese clinic, citing the case of a clinic named Hue Ha in District 5, where patients are examined by several self-claimed doctors. Any diseases can be treated at such a clinic, and in a special case, two different illnesses are prescribed the same medicine, says the paper.
Phap Luat asserts the point, quoting a Vietnamese doctor as saying that the same remedy applies to almost all diseases at such clinics. Commenting on why there are so many self-claimed doctors at such Chinese clinics, this doctor says that certain genuine doctors have called in their relatives or friends who have little knowledge of oriental medicine, and these people come to Vietnam under the disguise of market researchers.
During snap inspections at all the seven Chinese clinics in HCMC these days, Chinese doctors have resisted cooperation by closing down their clinics, or taking flight upon the arrival of inspectors, or concealing machines and equipment not allowed under their business certificates. Inspectors have found evidence of violations, including unlicensed surgical operations, use of non-origin or expired medicines, and employment of self-claimed doctors without work permits.
Commenting on the repeated violations, Vietnamnet says authorities have been incapable to monitor operations of Chinese clinics, while Vnexpress says lenient punitive sanctions have been insufficient to deter their wrongdoings.
In the wake of such a chaotic scene regarding Chinese clinics, the Ministry of Health has just urged all local governments to quickly probe their operations. The ministry also vows to take tough actions, including shutting down such clinics. Such a stance is imperative now as loose management on the part of authorities has given way for Chinese clinics to prescribe bitter pills, not only for local patients but also for the healthcare sector.
The Saigon Times Daily