The media has raised the issue for many years. But would-be healthcare brokers have continued their shady operations with impunity, trapping hapless patients in many dubious schemes.
Illegal healthcare brokers are often the first people that patients meet at hospitals. These brokers welcome the patients in the parking areas, offering services such as helping patients book check-ups with leading doctors without long waits, and introducing them to private clinics nearby.
According to newspaper reporters, there are about 10 brokers operating from 5am to 4pm daily outside the Cancer (K) Hospital in Quán Sứ Street. The illegal "staff" are often noisy at the hospital. They approach patients, saying: “Do you want a checkup?”; “You do not need to queue, I can bring you to doctors immediately”; or “I can help you to get your test results within one day”. The brokers promise patients that all services will be conducted quickly and that their diseases will be treated well.
K Hospital is always overloaded with work and overcrowded. Many patients do not have time to wait for their turns. So they choose the brokers’ services instead.
A broker usually charges each patient VND30,000-50,000 (US$1.4-US$2.3) for a checkup.
But brokers usually try to persuade patients to go to nearby private clinics, instead of the hospital. The brokers say that the clinic doctors also work for the hospital, but that patients will not have to wait as long because the clinics are not as crowded.
But prices for clinic checkups and tests are higher than hospital prices.
Yet many patients trust in the quick services promised by the illegal brokers.
“Quick, but too expensive”, says a patient from Haiphong City. He paid VND1.4 million (US$65) for a CT scan at the clinic: VND400,000 higher than the hospital price.
Another brokers’ trick is offering to help patients get checkups at hospitals, then holding on to their prescriptions, forcing them to buy medicines at particular drugstores.
Yet, the brokers cannot do their jobs without the help of hospital healthcare workers.
The newspaper reported that this kind of clinic-broker fraud has also been documented at Army Hospital 108 and Central Eye Hospital.
Dr. Bui Cong Toan, vice director of K Hospital, said: “There were no illegal brokers inside the hospital. I cannot handle brokers operating their services outside the hospital”, he told the newspaper.
“This was an unavoidable situation which existed for many years. The hospital is always overloaded with patients. Private clinics exist to meet patient demand. Brokers decoy patients there.”
The hospital has warned its health workers and doctors repeatedly not to join hands with illegal brokers. Any hospital health worker or doctor discovered helping the brokers will be punished strictly.
Meanwhile, Dr. Nguyen Xuan Hiep, director of Central Eye Hospital, admitted the operation of illegal brokers around his hospital.
“This harms the hospital’s prestige”, Hiệp said.
“It is difficult to see evidence of collaboration by hospital staff and illegal brokers”, he admitted.
Hospital authorities and police have been unable to control the problem. They often blame one another for the trouble.
Hospital authorities agree that illegal brokers operate publicly outside all hospitals. At some hospitals they have gone a step further, wearing hospital security guard uniforms and setting up areas to ply their illegal trade. But brokers ply their trade outside hospitals. So hospitals can’t do anything, other than to limit the situation within the hospitals themselves.