Falling ill while abroad can open up a bewildering array of medical choices with patients not knowing which doctors to consult or rely on. But Siem Reap expats are now all a-buzz at the news that British GP Dr Ian Ferguson will set up a consulting practice in town in January.
Ferguson, a UK-registered doctor with 20 years’ experience under his belt including eight years as partner at his own London practice, has spent the last year working as a volunteer doctor at two local NGOs. As he wrote on his recent Facebook post, he noticed during his time here there seemed to be a gap in the market.
“I am aware that there may be a need for a Western trained doctor who can see travellers or long-term expats who cannot afford, or are unable to get, medical insurance,” he wrote.
“Health costs at the international hospitals are very high, and they are not that well placed to offer help for long-term health conditions or simple minor problems. I want to offer high quality trustworthy medical consultation at a reasonable price. I can also advise on the need for further referral and sign-post to recommended local services.”
The idea came while he was volunteering at NGO New Hope Cambodia, where he worked for the last five months. He began to find that many expats were being referred to him through his friend Jessica Whitney, an American paediatric nurse who also worked at New Hope.
“I’d been thinking about this for a few months,” he says, “Informally I’d been seeing people through Jess. A lot of people have been contacting her over the last year or so asking for help with various medical conditions.”
While Ferguson was happy to see patients, fitting them in when he could around his volunteer work, he recognised that it made sense to make it more official so he could start seeing patients properly. Not having a clinic of his own, he started trialing a service where he visited patients at their homes, charging a consulting fee of $25.
This proved a resounding success, with 12 patients seen in his first week and happy customers all round.
Sixty-five people expressed their support for his Facebook announcement, along with comments that he was an “excellent doctor” with “up-to-date skills,” and a “welcome addition to the somewhat hit and miss services one can currently obtain here.”
He says, “With the posting on the Facebook site I just did it to see what sort of response there would be and it was a huge response. I was really bowled over.”
He returned to the UK this month, but when he comes back in January hopes to be able to secure a private clinic from which he can practice.
“I think there’s a whole untapped section of the expat community that are probably quite keen to see a Western doctor and be introduced to a good local clinic, and use the facilities,” he says.
Ferguson is keen to stress that there is a lot of medical expertise here, but local doctors’ knowledge may be stronger in some areas than others.
“I feel that there are some really good Khmer doctors working here, many trained at Angkor Hospital for Children,” he says. “It’s just a real shame that there isn’t a way of almost quality controlling them and then saying to the expat community that actually there’s a really good eye doctor here.
“Some of the doctors are very used to seeing the local conditions – dengue, malaria – but they don’t have the experience of chronic diseases and diseases of the elderly so much, and that’s where I feel that I could work here really well.”
Longer-term, Ferguson would also like to help raise the standards of some of the local clinics by acting as a sort of go-between between patient and practice.
“I would like to try and very gently put a little bit of pressure on some of the clinics to raise their standards and act as a bit of a quality control person,” he says. “If people had a questionable experience I’d be happy to go back to that clinic and in the name of positive feedback say, ‘We had this person, this was their experience.’ I think some gentle feedback might be really interesting.”