HCM CITY — Three physician-lecturers at the School of Medicine's Hospital have been suspended by both the school and the hospital over allegations they have accepted commissions from international pharma giants Merck Sharp&Dohme for prescribing their medicines to patients.
The physicians have been temporarily suspended for 15 days and asked to report on their actions to the school and hospital management boards, according to Nguyen Hoang Bac, deputy director of the hospital.
"They are our outstanding doctors, so we want to gather sufficient specific evidence before applying any kind of penalties," Bac said.
"It's a quite sensitive issue given that it damages the hospital's credibility and the trust patients have in the healthcare system as a whole," he added.
Bac conceded that prescription commissions are widely known in healthcare circles, and the hospital has taken many preventive measures like blocking contacts between physicians and pharmaceutical representatives within the hospital's premises.
"However, pharmaceutical management is extremely complicated and medical reps have many ways to approach physicians," he said.
Bac said that the hospital has checked all the prescriptions over the last three years at the department where the suspended doctors work but no over-prescription of any kind of medicine was found, and that wrongful prescriptions were given at the physician's own clinics.
However, one of the physicians has already dismissed the allegations, saying she did not sell medicines at her own clinic, only prescribing them for patients to buy at drugstores outside.
Meanwhile, the Vice-Rector of the School of Medicine, Le Quan Nghiem, said that its managing board was awaiting investigators' conclusions to sort out the problem.
Earlier this month, the local press had widely reported that some physicians were receiving between hundreds of millions to half a billion dong (dozens of thousands of dollars) a month for prescribing certain drugs at their privately-owned clinics.
The scandal came to light with the exposure of a report on commissions paid to physicians filed by a drugstore in District 10. The drugstore was paying commissions on behalf of the pharmaceutical companies.
It was reported that the commissions were calculated at 10 to 30 per cent of the medicine's prices, passing on the costs to patients.
A chemist who spoke on condition of anonymity said that patients at his hospital can save billions of dong (hundreds of thousands of dollars) a month if drug prices are not marked up by commissions to physicians.
"It explains why health expenditures have gone up so unreasonably," he said.
The Ministry of Health said its inspectors planned to work with the school and the hospital this week to get to the bottom of the case.
MSD Pharmaceuticals has petitioned the Ministry for an extended deadline to submit its own explanations. — VNS