A night at the emergency room in a Vietnamese hospital

Submitted by tomo on October 23, 2012 - 11:18am

As I was standing at the building's entrance between two never-closing sliding doors while trying to catch a breeze at midnight on a weekday, a Honda SH (a ludicrously expensive motorbike) pulled up right next to me - actually pulling right into the hospital's ER waiting room. Held up between the motorbike's driver and a passenger was an overweight, unconscious middle-aged Vietnamese man. He had drunk too much and was now too much drunk.

The first rule of the ER at a Vietnamese hospital was that if you couldn't get the patient onto a hospital bed yourself, the hospital staff would just watch, or not, and wait until you did. I suppose it's not in anyone's job description. Corollary: they don't really care if you drive your scooter into the hospital's waiting room.

The second rule I learned is that once you fill out the paperwork for admission (you could be convulsing/dying - you'll still have to fill out all the forms before you can see anyone), there is no triage system. I watched a women pull herself into the treatment area, sit herself down on a hospital bed, and wait an hour before asking the head doctor when someone would attend to her. Hospital staff were only loosely aware of who was there, a system also known as "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" to see the patients who complained the most first. There's no formal triage, quick initial examinations to give priority to "time-sensitive" patients, something that would not only waste less time but perhaps save lives.

Third Observation: The emergency room is open all night. They expect you to go and buy your own drugs at their 24-hour pharmacy. Which is fine but at 3AM the sole pharmacist is busy getting her beauty sleep on while laid under covers (because her tiny office is the only place there with A/C and she has it on arctic blast) on a little folding cot and she will be really upset (directed at you) when you wake her up to fill your prescription. I'm not sure what else could be in her job description besides staying awake and filling prescriptions.

Result : Waiting around for 4 hours to get two shots and a prescription for various pills (which you should still Google and Wikipedia when you get home to see what they are and decide if they're necessary or even helpful). Not convinced that the treatment caused any more improvement than just laying around for a couple of hours.

I may be guilty of painting a less than spectacular picture of hospitals in Vietnam and even going so far as to suggesting that there may be room for improvement. But even Vietnamese people are voting with their dollars. They think that rhino horns and other horny appendages are a better cure for their illnesses than going to the hospital, at least a local Vietnamese hospital. But surely the newer hospitals, the international hospitals, are better, aren't they? What about the newish French Viet hospital in Phu My Hung? Next I'll talk about how the best Vietnamese hospitals stack up against hospitals around the region.

Son Phan (not verified)

Hi Tomo, I shared almost the same experience at the ER four days before my VN bike trip, a drunk motorbike hit-and-run and I had to drive myself to a drug counter, stopped the bleeding and to the ER at a nearby local hospital, put myself onto bed and the staff sew my chin back with 8 stiches.

Well I guessed the good side of the story is this happened before the trip and not during it...

I like your site btw, lots of good experience to learn from. Looking forward to coming back more often :)

-- Son

rubin pham (not verified)

very funny article, and sad in a way.
this is the reason why i am holding on to my job so that i can retire in 1.5 years and get my american insurance before i can go back to vietnam.
my hometown is can tho and i believe healthcare is a little better there.

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