|Assoc. Prof. Nguyễn Thanh Hiệp, rector of the Phạm Ngọc Thạch Medical University. — VNS PHOTO
Densely populated HCM City, Việt Nam’s largest, has just 2.31 medical workers per 10,000 people at the ward and commune levels, far below the national average of 7.4.
The city recently announced that fresh graduates from medical universities will practise for a year at commune and ward health stations across the city. Accordingly, the first batch of 297 fresh graduates from the Phạm Ngọc Thạch Medical University began their practice last month.
These and other solutions are necessary to bolster grassroots health care in the city, which is a lifetime service of critical importance, Assoc Prof Nguyễn Thanh Hiệp, rector of the Phạm Ngọc Thạch Medical University tells Việt Nam News reporter Thu Hằng.
Can you say something about the importance of primary healthcare, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Primary healthcare centres, which are the closest and easily accessible facilities for the community, offer initial medical services to patients before transferring them to more advanced hospital-based care.
Primary healthcare addresses the majority of a person’s health needs throughout their lifetime and, therefore, plays a crucial role in the health of a nation.
However, the current situation is that locals usually visit large hospitals to get their health checks and treatment, while commune and ward health stations attract very few people because of a lack of investment in medical equipment and facilities, medical workers and medicines.
Most doctors opt to work for crowded hospitals and pursue a career in some specialty, leaving grassroots healthcare with a shortfall of doctors trained in general practice.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and showed up the limitations of grassroots healthcare, which is the first line of defence against the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what should be done to address the personnel shortages and strengthen the healthcare system at the ward and commune levels?
The deputation of young doctors to these health stations is one necessary step towards increasing the capacity of grassroots healthcare facilities. They need to be staffed by a young and compassionate medical workforce.
The most important thing is how to attract and retain doctors to work at these grassroots healthcare facilities and encourage them to pursue general medicine.
For this, the Government needs to pour more investment into the health sector, with priority given to its workforce, especially those needed at the grassroots level.
Preferential policies, especially in remuneration and allowances for medical staff should be put in place to attract qualified medical workers to work at grassroots health centres.
The increasing imbalance between specialists and generalists needs to be urgently addressed with reforms in medical education towards encouraging students and graduate doctors to pursue general practice and family medicine.
Doctors at grassroots health stations should receive professional assistance from hospitals at higher levels as a matter of course.
Co-ordination between health stations and hospitals should be strengthened to ensure regular professional assistance and support for transferring patients when needed.
The public-private partnership model should be adopted to strengthen primary healthcare at the grassroots level.
With appropriate investment and adequate medical workers, grassroots healthcare stations will develop well and attract more locals, and this, in turn, will remove the overloading of major hospitals that happens now.
The Phạm Ngọc Thạch Medical University has joined the national programme on strengthening primary healthcare in keeping with family medicine principles. How will the application of these principles benefit locals when they visit the grassroots health stations?
The main family medicine principle is to provide comprehensive and constant care for individuals throughout their lifetime.
Many health stations in the city have been operating on family medicine principles under the national programme.
Participating health stations have been assisted with improving the competence of medical workers at the grassroots level, infrastructure upgrades and addition of essential medical equipment and other facilities.
In 2017, the Phạm Ngọc Thạch Medical University established a family medicine clinic as a place of practice and training for graduate doctors.
The clinic has coordinated with health stations in districts 10 and Bình Tân to train their medical staff in accordance with family medicine principles as well as in providing professional assistance via the telemedicine system.
Preliminary results show these health stations are achieving high patient satisfaction because they receive continued quality care at reasonable cost.
The health insurance agency should add more medicines and tests that are covered by policies to attract more insured patients to visit these health stations.
Next, the school plans to assist health stations in District 7 to become proficient in family medicine. —VNS