Much-hyped family doctor model fails to gain traction in Vietnam

By Khanh An, Thanh Nien News

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Patients wait at an overcrowded hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Khanh An Patients wait at an overcrowded hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Khanh An

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A plan to improve Vietnam's healthcare system by introducing medical family practice is not going smoothly due to a lack of commitment and personnel, the Ministry of Health admitted last week.
“The family doctor model is new to Vietnam and has been implemented in several localities. But it has not received sufficient investment and has had limited impacts,” Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday.
Under the plan’s first stage, six cities and provinces nationwide launched the model in 2013 -- Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Thua Thien-Hue, Khanh Hoa, Can Tho and Tien Giang.
Tien said in many cases, patients have not been documented and monitored properly and frequently.
A total of 240 general practice clinics with family doctors in these localities have reported more than 800,000 visits. However, only 195,000 people have been monitored regularly. 
In the next phase, 80 percent of cities and provinces nationwide will launch the practice by 2020 as the government aims to improve healthcare services, detect serious diseases early and reduce overloading at hospitals.
At the conference, HCMC’s newly-appointed Party chief Dinh La Thang highly evaluated the model.
He said the health ministry should set a clear target in which the number of residents really benefiting from the service is clearly defined, rather than assessing the program based on how many cities and provinces have family doctors. 
“There should be concerted actions from the central and local government as well as good preparations in personnel training, facilities and policies for doctors and nurses,” he said.
Thang also said the health ministry should do more to solve overloading at public hospitals, improve service quality and manage prices better.
“HCMC is committed to closely coordinating with the ministry to successfully implement the family doctor model. This is a very important measure to reduce overloading at hospitals and improve healthcare services,” he said.

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