Those claiming to be victims of medical malpractice in Vietnam are increasingly demanding compensation from local institutions, while hospitals and doctors say the trend is putting undue pressure on them and causing unjust payments and "extortion."
A Ho Chi Minh City hospital doctor who requested anonymity said he was ordered by his employer to pay VND50 million (US$2,380) to the family of a 49-year-old patient from the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap. The patient was identified only as N.T.T. and the doctor declined to name the hospital.
The doctor said he had punctured T's bowel during a urinary gravel surgery. He said the wound caused an infection that the patient later died from and T's family demanded the hospital pay VND150 million ($7,100) in compensation to cover the hospital and funeral fees.
After prolonged negotiations, the two sides agreed on a compensation sum of VND100 million ($4,700), which was shared 50/50 by the hospital and the doctor.
Another HCMC doctor, who asked to be identified only as T., also said he paid VND100 million to the family of an 18-year-old girl from neighboring Binh Duong Province after she died of pneumonia under his care at the hospital he declined to name.
"Doctors today face too much pressure!" said a doctor at Cho Ray Hospital, usually considered Ho Chi Minh City's best state hospital.
Doctors are often overworked and forced to see over a hundred patients a day.
"But the pressure does not only come from workload but also from lawsuits and demands for compensation," said the Cho Ray doctor who asked not to be named.
Dr Nguyen Huu Tung, general director of the Hoan My Hospital chain, said a growing number of hospitals are facing lawsuits and compensation demands from patients. In some cases, Tung said, patients are claiming up to VND1.5-3 billion ($71,400-142,800) in compensation.
Another source told Thanh Nien that on September 12, a hospital in HCMC which the source refused to identify paid $3,000 to a Vietnamese Australian woman who complained of dental malpractice at the institution.
The source said the woman claimed she had some complications with treatment at the hospital and demanded that the hospital pay $9,000 for her to treat the problems in Australia.
The source said the hospital did not agree to her demands and argued that the "complications" mentioned were vague and the patient should treat the complications, if there were any, at Vietnamese hospital rather than overseas.
After prolonged negotiations, the hospital agreed to pay $3,000, though a source from the institution also referred to the woman as an "extortionist."
Previously, the family of a patient in Binh Duong Province claimed VND200 million ($9,500) in compensation from an unidentified hospital in HCMC after the patient, who had a history of heart disease, died after treatment. The hospital eventually paid VND100 million to keep the family silent.
As this trend grows, many hospitals have set aside funds to pay for the families of patients who claim malpractice. In some cases, the hospitals paid even when the doctors made no mistakes, but because the patients' families were too poor.
Experts said the health authorities should draft regulations to define the cases in which hospitals and doctors must compensate patients.