Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Most people, including expats, have no close relationship with Vietnam healthcare. Once facing the prospect of a specific treatment or surgery, expats will rely on their friends or expat groups in Facebook. Let’s face it, what is the probability that your ‘friend’ had the exact same surgery case to treat in Vietnam? Was it recently enough for the treating surgeon to still be here?
It is not a matter of what the expats in your country know but who is the doctor well connected and unbiased to point you not necessarily to the best hospital but rather to the right professor or specialist and in the right country nearby.
If your treating doctor recommends surgery at a hospital, do you really need it?
Healthcare in Vietnam is ‘transactional’ as opposed to purely transformational ie. curative. In other words, it is a business where the hospital recommends surgery that they know they can do inside their hospital. Referral to a peer is rare and knowledge of the best practice specialists abroad is never done by doctors in Vietnam. It is slightly more common with foreign doctors… if they are long-term residents and know their way around.
Perhaps you can avoid invasive surgery at a hospital in Vietnam
Culturally doctors see you as a client rather than as a patient. Vietnamese doctors do not refer to their peers or other specialists as they see them as competitors for their clients. Asking for a second opinion or another way to treat is a good practice before opting for a serious hospitalization in Vietnam.
Firstly, at $10/consultation, Vietnamese specialists make money on the drugs they prescribe to you, as advertising and selling medicines is authorized. Did you notice that, in Vietnam, doctors supply medicines without boxes and information? And of course the most money is made on invasive surgery when patients are hospitalized.
Second, private doctors have little relationship with big state-owned hospitals surgeons and have little exchanges with state-of-the-art practice unless they work at à state-hospital on top of their practice, which is fairly common.
Third, referring to a peer is a clear admission of its weakness as a medical professional and would not like the word to spread to his practice clientele and losing face too.
So they will tend to recommend the procedure they know they can perform.
Some medical specialties are not well represented in hospitals in Vietnam
Did you know, since Vietnam opened in the 1990s till now, expat doctors and international clinics still recommend medical evacuation to an international hospital in Thailand, Singapore or your home country.
The main specialties poorly represented, as per International SOS evacuation cases are: neuro surgery, hands microsurgery, cardiology, cancer treatment, virology, rare blood types -as there is no reliable blood bank-, burns, rehab centers, serious eye conditions, allergies, blood tests and pathology.
Quite often in Asian developing countries we can see a frenzy of text messages looking for B or AB blood urgently for a road accident or imminent surgery.
So now you understand even the ‘best hospital’ can only offer what its best surgeon can deliver if he is still resident in Vietnam or in the hospital. As the best surgeons tend to be in high demand, they change hospitals or relocate to better paid capitals like Singapore or Hong Kong.
Asking expat groups for best hospital in Vietnam is dangerous
A common question in Facebook expat cum expert groups we see is ‘What is the best hospital in town.
A better question would be ‘who has done this exact same procedure/treatment in Vietnam hospital and what was the outcome’; unfortunately there are fewer expats to point you to the relevant hospital, especially if they did not survive the said operation surgery.
For instance, in cancer treatment there can be 4 or more ways to cure: ablation, chemotherapy, radiation, immuno, cryoablation, radiofrequency… with more or less side effects and debilitating effects…
Asking a group of expats for the best hospitals to treat a cough (which are usually the advanced lung cancer symptoms) will surely not be of help to cure you swiftly.
Question: What do all those ‘International’ hospitals in Vietnam have in common?
Answer: None are foreign ownership – all are Vietnamese owned – none is run by an International Healthcare management.
The real question is: where to find the best doctor or specialist in which hospital?
Once you spot the procedure and you are for sure certain that it is the best thing to do for your/your family health, is to find the right doctor whether a specialist or surgeon (eventually that speaks your language) and in which hospital he operates?
Most times, such specialists or professors work in public or University hospital teaching and also traveling with peer doctors to international seminars on their medical specialty, thus speaking good english.
A good practice is to have a doctor as a friend in Vietnam or abroad
Indeed, under the stress of a recommended surgery abroad, you want an unbiased -and friendly-, non-commercial medical advice from a doctor.
Expat doctors tend to be more concerned with their hippocratic oath and reputation than Vietnamese doctors who can be very opaque should complications arise.
Independent doctors with no stake in recommending a surgeon in his specialty
Expat international outpatient clinics or doctors, as they have no stake in hospitalization invasive surgery and want to keep a pristine reputation to the small world of expats, have their network inside Vietnam (usually for budget clients) or outside to Thailand, Singapore or your home country where they can refer in a few phone calls away.
They can also arrange your appointment with priority as a ‘remote country referrer’ and the medical evacuation too in case of urgency and when no ‘international standard hospital of excellence exists in the country. This applies to countries or island in ASEAN where healthcare is non-existing like Borneo, Bali, Cambodia, Lao… and remote provincial cities of Vietnam.
Ask your insurance provider or emergency assistance service for a hospital recommendation
In the absence of such support you can use the medical assistance and evacuation service attached to your credit card, your insurance or a friend’s one. Their emergency number is exactly what they do for their clients day-in and day-out. When in an urgent medical situation, the hotline consists mainly of a medical desk -like SOS International or Mondial assistance- and à huge database of medical professionals and hospitals, they can point their clients to, thus at times saving lives.
There is a myth that your insurer will try to find the cheapest place to do the procedure; this is only right for an unregulated and substandard insurer. The reason is simple: a reliable and regulated insurer will want you treated and cured once for all, so they don’t have to pay for extended and costly procedures to treat the subsequent complications.
More importantly the assistance service has a blacklist of hospitals and doctors to absolutely avoid -for what type of treatment-, if one wants to stay valid or just alive.
Conclusion: finding the best hospital to treat you in Vietnam and Asia
Is not a matter of what the expats in your country know but who is the doctor well connected and unbiased to point you not necessarily to the best hospital but rather to the right professor or specialist and in the right country nearby. In doubt and serious illness, there is nothing better than your native or trusted country as sometimes rehabilitation is more important and mental support in your native language near your loved ones are the best healing people.