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Dr Seng Hak Srun. Photo supplied

Defending Cambodian doctors’ trustworthiness

Complaints regarding the health services provided by both the public and private health institution sectors seem to continue arising.

Recent cases include some private clinics being sued by the family of a patient after the doctor’s injection proved to be fatal due to uninformed decisions, and the extortion of money from patients by prolonging the patients’ illnesses with ill-prescribed medicines.

Data has shown that there are about 800 to 1,000 people seeking out-of-the-country medical services in a day using passports, while informal travelling is estimated at 2,000 people per day.

Nevertheless, Dr Seng Hak Srun, a doctor and head of the Cambodian association of private health institutions, says he does not believe Cambodian doctors are overall incompetent. In his view, the reputation of local doctors has only been sullied by the negligence of some individual practitioners.

He shares his insight with Post Plus.

Pertaining to the quality of both public and private healthcare in Cambodia, there seems to be dissatisfaction and a lack of confidence from the people in Cambodia’s health professionals, leading to them seeking medical treatment in other countries. What are your opinions on this?

The problem as to why Cambodian people are seeking medical treatment elsewhere, and claiming that the quality of healthcare in Cambodia is sub-par; I think that it’s natural that doctors are bound to make mistakes, and when I hear about the scalding insults towards doctors, it also makes me feel disappointed.

Cambodian doctors only have one mistake called “honest mistake”, and there has never been a doctor who had made a “dishonest mistake”. It’s dishonest only if you’re implying that the doctor made that mistake on purpose, because out of all the professions, only doctors are required to take a Hippocratic Oath in order to be certified.

In conclusion, no doctor wants to purposely end a patient’s life, not even an animal’s life. Doctors only commit honest mistakes due to their lack of knowledge and technicality, and we can see that he [an unnamed doctor] made an accidental mistake by injecting what he did into a patient with a heart disease, which proved fatal to the patient’s life.

The case made everything seem as if the doctor had the intention to kill the patient, but in reality, he did it unknowingly.

Another one of his mistakes was that he didn’t have the right equipment at the right time. The allotted time didn’t enable him to save’s the patient’s life with sufficient equipments; therefore, the patient passed away before the needed equipments arrived.

The case itself created a stream of backlash on social media towards doctors, even if it wasn't a dishonest mistake.

What do you think ought to be done to re-establish Cambodians’ trust in local doctors?
There has to be some sort of mindset revolution, meaning that we can’t blame the entire thing on one person – it has to start from each of us. In this mindset revolution, we have to teach Cambodian people to prefer Cambodian products, because top-notch doctors in Cambodia aren’t so mediocre compared to foreign doctors.

Cambodian doctors tend to work by themselves, so that the money would be collected in one place. This is because if four doctors collaborated together to form a hospital, at most it would operate for between six months and three years before arguments break out.

Some doctors have established their own practices and clinics, or they work with their spouses, where the main revenue comes from injections. They’re afraid to call on specialists, because they don’t want to lose money and sully their name.

I created this association in the hopes of gathering doctors together to exchange ideas and opinions, instead of making the patients our gain; we need to make our patients be our cause.

Do you know how many people seek out-of-the-country medical services in a day, and how many health centres there are in Cambodia?
In average, there are 800 to 1,000 people seeking medical help out of the country, and this number includes only people using proper passports. Their expenses are estimated to be on average from $500 to $1,000 per person. However, the people crossing the border informally are estimated to be about 2,000 people per day.

For example, locals from Svay Rieng and Poi Pet don’t need passports.

How do you suggest we reduce the number of people seeking out-of-country medical help?
As I already mentioned, the masked killers or the accidental killers are the doctors. In order to stop people from saying that doctors are incompetent, we should alter the mindset of doctors, and the patients as well, because people are prone to go along with what everyone else says. These rumours include getting medical treatments from other countries, which are perceived as less expensive but safer.

As for private clinics in the country, there are 3,800 establishments, while there are 5,000 health centres and referral hospitals.

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