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Innovation inspires VN medical tourism boom

Update: June, 23/2013 - 17:36

Cradle of humanity: Nurses take care of new born babies at HCM City's Cho Lon Hospital, where a wide-range of high-tech treatments are available.

by Gia Loc

Advanced high-tech treatment and services are attracting more local as well as foreign patients to hospitals in Viet Nam, according to the Ministry of Health.

Speaking at a recent conference, Dr Tran Quy Tuong, deputy head of the ministry's Disease Treatment Management Department, said that local patients were foregoing trips abroad to seek medical care.

Foreign patients are often combining tourism with medical treatment in the country, a growing trend that has occurred in a number of developing countries with high quality medical care.

Organ transplants, cardiovascular interventions, laparoscopic surgery and advanced obstetrics are some of the services that attract patients to the country.

Advanced medical treatment for tumours and eyes has also brought international recognition to Viet Nam.

Dr Tran Hai Yen, deputy head of the HCM City Eye Hospital, told Viet Nam News that many foreign health experts were surprised to discover that Viet Nam's hospitals owned high-tech equipment, such as the state-of-the-art VISUMAX Femtosecond Laser made by the German company Carl Zeiss Meditec.

The machine, used by the Eye Hospital and the High-Tech Eye Centre at the April 30 Hospital, provides smooth and precise flap-cutting capabilities for refractive laser surgery.

The two hospitals in HCM City treat myopia and myopic astigmatism with the ReLex-refractive lenticule extraction (ReLex SMILE) technique, the most modern one in the world.

"With this technique, doctors can avoid complications that can occur with other treatments, such as laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK)," she said, adding that patients can resume work the day after surgery.

Yen said foreign doctors had also been impressed with local doctors' professional skills.

Affordable treatment

Viet Nam's hospitals are also able to offer lower prices than many other countries in SouthEast Asia, a factor that has increased the number of patients.

The cost of a LASIK treatment, for example, is US$600 per eye, compared to $1,000-3,000 in other countries.

A kidney transplant in Viet Nam costs nearly VND100 million ($4,7), one-third the price in Thailand or China.

Yen said demand for such services were high, and that 11,000 patients per year had some kind of high-tech eye surgery.

The hospital has used the ReLex SMILE technique to correct refractive errors in the eye for 800 patients over the last year, she said.

Yen said that 2,000 patients had used the femtosecond laser technique at the hospital since 2011, and 13,000 patients had chosen the LASIK technique since 2000.

More foreign patients, particularly from Europe, the US, Australia and Singapore, are also coming to the hospital for treatment.

Hands on approach: Medical experts work in a laboratory at the HCM City Eye Hospital. — VNS Photos Huynh Van My

The number of foreign patients accounts for five per cent of the hospital's total patients each year, she added.

Other hospitals, including Cho Ray Hospital, People's Hospital 115 and Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital, are also serving more local as well as foreign patients.

Tu Duc Hien, deputy head of April 30 Hospital, said the eye centre was expected to treat 15,000 Vietnamese patients each year. It is also developing a plan to attract foreign patients.

Since the cost of high-tech equipment can be expensive, the hospital uses income derived from the use of such treatments to re-invest in facilities, he said.

Medical tourism

With more advanced treatment available at local hospitals, experts say that Viet Nam could develop medical-tourism services as Thailand, South Korea and Singapore have done.

Tran Quoc Bao, deputy director of business development at Cao Thang International Eye Hospital in HCM City, said more and more patients were coming to the country to seek medical treatment and tour famous sites.

Dr Truong Vinh Long, CEO of the Fortis Hoan My Sai Gon General Hospital, said medical-tourism services would be offered at its affiliate hospital in Da Lat, a city in the Central Highlands Lam Dong Province famed for its flower industry and temperate climate.

Long said that he and his colleagues in the plastic-surgery field welcomed the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between HCM City's Department of Health and Busan's Korea's Department of Welfare and Health (South Korea) to develop medical tourism and exchange expertise.

Busan's hospitals are known for high-quality cosmetic surgery.

The Viet Nam National Tourism Administration also aims to speed up medical tourism, which is a $100 billion global industry.

Latest figures from the General Statistics Office show that the number of foreign patients coming to Viet Nam for the purpose of medical study, treatment and related reasons rose 2.1 per cent last year compared to 2011.

Lower rates for the poor

Many hospitals in Viet Nam have also been offering high-tech treatment services at reduced or free rates for the poor by using funds collected from paying patients for similar treatments.

Cho Ray Hospital's high-tech treatment zone, for example, has attracted local as well as overseas Vietnamese and other foreigners, and its turnover is such that it can exempt and reduce rates for the poor, according to a hospital report.

Also, thanks to fees charged by hi-tech treatment services, the HCM City Eye Hospital is also able to provide care for the poor at reduced rates.

To create further healthcare access for the poor, the Ministry of Health has expanded the list of high-tech treatments available at a reduced rate for local patients.

The list now includes cardiovascular interventions, open-heart surgery, surgery with the gamma knife, and liver and kidney transplants. — VNS

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