While Vietnamese doctors' skills are said to be equal to most foreign doctors, every year about 40,000 Vietnamese spend nearly US$5 billion a year for treatment abroad on heart, cancer, digestive, and cosmetic surgery in foreign countries such as Singapore, China, the Republic of Korea, America, France and Thailand.
Overworked staff, poor service quality, complicated administrative procedures and less capable doctors are the major reasons why Vietnamese patients are turning their backs on local hospitals.
Ngo Thao, a 70 year-old writer from Hanoi, who has received treatment in both Vietnam and Singaporem said there were big differences between the two systems.
He said he was respected and taken care of by doctors in Singapore.
"Even if I had spent the same amount in a domestic hospital, I could not have found one with the treatment or care offered in Singapore," said Thao.
Operations in Singapore often cost five to 10 times more than operations in Vietnam. A kidney transplant costs about VND200 million ($9,000) in Viet Nam while it ranges from VND765 million ($33,000) to VND1.6 billion (US$72,000) in Singapore.
Heart surgery costs from VND60 million (US$2,700) to VND95 million (US$4,200) in Viet Nam, but VND450 million (US$20,000) in Singapore.
However well-off patients are willing to spend more money for more qualified doctors and excellent service. The poor service provided at many Vietnamese hospitals encourages these patients to look abroad.
A VNExpress survey of 700 patients in Viet Nam showed that 57 per cent do not want to use domestic hospitals due to the attitude and professional ethics of health staff.
In addition, the feedback given by patients via hotline shows concerns about other problems in the health sector.
Asking for more
During the first six months of 2015, there were 8,400 calls to the health ministry's hotline. About 36 per cent complained about the poor infrastructure of the hospitals, 29 per cent complained about complicated medical procedures, 14 per cent complained about costs and medical procedures for patients using social insurance, 12 percent criticised the poor attitude of doctors and health workers, according to the head of the Health Office, Nguyen Xuan Truong.
"Professionalism in the Vietnamese health sector is alarmingly poor and the service offered is not yet satisfactory to patients, however, by seeking treatment overseas the patients miss the opportunity of being treated by skilled doctors for a much lower cost than those abroad" Truong said.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Viet Tien said Vietnam offered highly skilled doctors who were capable of handling tough cases and many hospitals matched international standards. However, due to a lack of effective communication and inadequate policies, patients' confidence in local hospitals was still low, said Tien.
He said Vietnamese doctors had developed new treatment techniques and had made significant progress in their abilities.
A former director of HCM City Oncology Hospital, Nguyen Chan Hung, said Vietnamese doctors had a lot of experience in treating cancer, especially breast cancer.
Hospitals like Viet Duc, Bach Mai, Cho Ray and Tu Du Medicine University and the National Hospital of Paediatrics had recently held medical training for international doctors in endoscopic surgery and treatment for couples struggling to have children, he said.
He said Vietnamese hospitals were among the best in the Southeast Asia for in vitro maturation. HCM City Orthopaedy Hospital had developed microsurgery and successfully applied calf bone replacement techniques.
Former director of Tu Du Hospital, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, said the Hospital of Medicine University had successfully carried out vascular plant bone-marrow transplant. The Statistics Bueau said that while many Vietnamese turned their back on hospitals in Vietnam, the number of Asian people coming to Viet Nam for treatment and medical training was 360,000 in 2012 and expected to increase more.
Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, said comprehensive reforms had been made to enhance the medical ethics of doctors and health workers.
According to a 2014 report by the health ministry, upgrades were necessary to avoid bed shortages and overwork in national hospitals.
The ministry later reported that there had been an increase of 4,800 beds in 36 national hospitals - and the percentage of shared beds had fallen from 70 per cent to 7 per cent.