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Regional health insider talks Cambodian medical care

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International SOS regional managing director for South and South East Asia Philippe Huinck. Photograph: supplied

A French doctor established International SOS between Jakarta and Singapore 27 years ago. The company conducted emergency airlifts for patients to Singapore due to the lack of quality health services available in Indonesia at the time.

The French-owned company now has a presence in 74 countries and employs 10,000 people, 3,000 of which are medical professionals. SOS has been in Cambodia for 14 years. Regional Managing Director for South and Southeast Asia Philippe Huinck spoke with The Phnom Penh Post about the international health business and Cambodian hospitals.

What are the main areas of interest for your company?

Our end user is the business traveller and the expatriate. We have very simple requests, like: “I broke my glasses, where can I find an optometrist?”

But we also handle very serious cases: an obese man in his 60s is having chest pains. Sounds like a heart attack. We handle over 4.5 million cases a year. Out of the 4.5 million cases, 19,000 result in a medical evacuation. It’s very small percentage-wise. We are in the business of prevention.

This is the key business that we do. Grown out of this, we also provide medical services. This basically consists providing medical staff to remote sites. A remote site could be an oil rig or a mining site.

We also do medical consulting. We do site health reviews, which are very popular in Cambodia.

How do operations work for SOS in Cambodia?

In countries where the level of health care is not that good … there we have decided to set up our own clinic, like Cambodia. In some locations we don’t need a clinic because the local health care is really good.

At most locations we don’t have one. We have 27 clinics around the world. We have lot of them in Africa, many in Asia.

Where are clients generally airlifted in times of crisis?

Bangkok is typically the first base from Cambodia. Bangkok has developed rapidly as a centre for medical excellence. We first of all would evacuate people to Bangkok. But, let’s say the patient is from Germany, they may want to be evacuated to Germany. We can also organise that.

What do you make of health care in Cambodia?

Like in any emerging market, the development goes very fast, and typically goes in the right direction. But what we still see lacking in Cambodia is regulation. If you are a doctor and you travel to Cambodia and you wake up one day and say: “I’m going to start a clinic”, you can start a clinic. So who checks it? Who checks the credentials? The quality?

These start-ups would probably provide something better than what’s available. But what are the risks? What are the liabilities? But it can be very cheap. It’s very important that this develops. It’s important the government puts regulations in place.

What is the principle behind the “duty of care” study that SOS had commissioned?

The duty of care principle started to evolve in the US as a result of court cases. Something happens, then a employee sues his company. The company pays US$1 million. Then legislation starts to appear, or preventative measures. That raised the care level to employees and it has become standard over the past 20 to 30 years.

What did the report say about Asia?

One of the key findings when this whole study was conducted, it showed a discrepancy between the execution of duty of care in the West and that in Asia. And that was interesting for us and we started to find out why is is.

There are a few possible reasons why. In Asia, companies tend to look at the cost side. They see the execution of duty of care more as a cost. If you don’t execute on duty of care, you may save on the short term, but not necessarily in the long term.

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