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Dr. Soontorn Sritha, head of the planned Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, at his office in Phnom Penh last month. Pha Lina
Dr. Soontorn Sritha, head of the planned Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, at his office in Phnom Penh last month. PHA LINA

Hospital gives expansion details

Royal Rattanak Hospital will close down and move into a new, eight-storey building in November, changing its name to Royal Phnom Penh Hospital. Anne Renzenbrink sat down with the CEO of the hospital’s regional management group, Dr. Soontorn Sritha, to talk about the new facility and Cambodia’s health care sector.

Can you explain the corporate structure of your company’s hospitals?

The Bangkok Hospital Group is managed by the Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Public Co, Ltd, BDMS. Right now we run 30 hospitals in Thailand and Cambodia. There are 28 in Thailand and two others in Cambodia.

How will Royal Phnom Penh Hospital differentiate itself from other hospitals in the city?

We’re aiming to set up as the best in town, the best private hospital. It will accommodate 100 beds, full equipment, medical technology. We will recruit Thai, international and Cambodian doctors to work together. We have a helipad on the top. In one hour we can fly in a specialist from Bangkok if we need to.

What specialisation do you have and what do you hope to bring here?

The major area that we are keen on is the heart, we treat everything for the heart. Heart surgery, transplants, bypass surgery, even irregular heart beats. The second area is the brain. We have neuroscientists and doctors that can manage every problem. The third one deals with the bone structure, especially the spine. And the fourth is oncology. In Bangkok we have the cancer hospital. We do everything to treat cancer, from surgery to chemotherapy. So here we will offer the same treatment as our hospitals in Thailand. We’ll either manage the patient here or, if it’s past a certain level, we’ll fly a specialist in.

By saying that, you imply that services in Cambodia are still a bit limited?

Of course. There are some specialists, but they don’t have enough. There is only one fully trained nephrologist – a kidney specialist – in the country. The cardiac surgeon, a surgeon that operates on the heart, they have one or two, but not fully trained. They have to access their specialists from France or from some from other countries to do their operations here. We’re going to hire more specialists and not only that, invest more in medical equipment. The equipment should be similar to a good hospital in Bangkok. Equivalent.

How much was the whole investment, the construction of the new building?

The total investment in the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital goes up to around $45 million. There were no donors. We did it ourselves. We set up a subsidiary company here. The investment is from The Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Co, which owns 100 per cent of Royal Phnom Penh Hospital. As the parent company, we’re already listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

How do you make a profit here, the income level is low in comparison to other countries in the region?

In Cambodia, we estimate that around five per cent of families are well to do, rich or middle class. So out of a population with [almost] 15 million people, that’s five per cent. That’s quite a lot. Nowadays, those people who can afford the good health care go abroad. Cambodians are coming to Thailand, to Singapore and Vietnam.

How do you recruit staff, are medical schools in Cambodia good enough?

We have many Cambodian doctors working with us, but most they take certain courses abroad. It’s hard to find highly trained experts and specialists in this country. Normally we recruit from Thailand and also from abroad.

What would be the ideal patient of the hospital or the average patient?

Normally we expect the middle income up. But according to our policy we still treat the people who need help, especially the seriously injured. The hospital was set up to help the people, to save the life of the people. So in emergencies we won’t ask about money up front. We help them first. When they are stable, we ask if they can afford us or not. If they can afford us we’ll pursue further treatment here, if not we’ll send to a government hospital. That is the policy. We will not refuse to accept any patient.

Do you accept insurance or mainly cash payment?

The rich people, they pay cash. Ninety per cent will pay in cash. We accept insurance. But the insurance market here, we must say it’s still in the premature stage. You need some years to develop it. But in the future it may be more and more. Now in Thailand, let’s say the number of insurance policies is around 30 per cent of the total population.

Will you still work as a doctor at the new hospital?

In the past I worked as a surgeon, but I stopped practising more than 10 years ago. So now it is purely administrative.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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