When 42-year-old Dorji (last name withdrawn), a Thimphu businesswoman, went to hospital with back pain, doctors at JigmeDorjiWangchuk National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu told her there was pus in her backbone. However, she chose not to be treated in Bhutan. She decided to go to Thailand for treatment.
Dorji spent a huge amount of money (amount not disclosed) for the treatment in a private hospital in Bangkok. But the pain persisted. She consulted doctors at JDWNRH again and found out that the disease had not been treated.
Another woman who was asked to urgently undergo sinusitis operation in a hospital in Guwahati, India, came to JDWNRH to crosscheck. She found out that she didn’t suffer from sinusitis at all.
Similarly, a Bhutanese woman visited a private hospital in Siliguri in India at her own expenses. She was diagnosed with cancer in her large intestine. She did a recheck at JDWNRH and found out that she had ‘impacted stole’ and not a cancer.
DrUgyenDophu, the director general of Medical Services, said two Bhutanese women, who went abroad for child delivery last year, had blood transfusion and came back with HIV positive.
Bhutanese patients, who visit cheap private clinics abroad, are increasingly falling victim to unprofessional practices.
An international agency, Oxfam, on Wednesday reported that private clinics, especially in Asia, are being driven by financial incentives to carry out dangerous and costly procedures regardless of whether or not there is any benefit to patients.
This week, BBC reported that in one rural district of Rajasthan in India, thousands of women have been deliberately misled into believing that they need a hysterectomy (a medical operation to remove part or all of a woman’s womb). Private doctors are also over-prescribing unnecessary cesareans for money.
DrUgyenDophu said Bhutanese don’t seem to trust and respect free health facilities in the country and go for treatment abroad.
The reason, among others, could be because they have no patience to wait in queue. But most of the hospitals in neighbouring countries don’t conduct proper clinical examination, he said. Hospitals in neighbouring countries straightaway diagnose based on investigation result and not based on medical books.
In Bhutan, diagnosis is not fully dependent on investigation like laboratory tests, MRI, X-ray, CT scan and ultrasound but on combination of these investigations with appropriate clinical examination.
The director said that wait-period for any surgery in Bhutan is shorter than in many neighbouring countries.
“Many of our women have lost their lives attempting abortions abroad,” Opposition Leader TsheringTobgay wrote on his blog. “Many, many more have suffered life-threatening complications caused by abortions. And countless others have undergone the trauma of abortions in dangerous clinics across our border.”
A doctor in Thimphu said the treatment options and medications prescribed for a medical condition other than the one affecting an individual can have devastating results. If a person is given a treatment for an illness that he or she does not have, the person can suffer from serious complication.
“Fake and unethical doctors who are driven by financial incentives can easily misguide patients, including those who have problems with breast, lungs, prostate, cervix, ovaries, and testicles,” he said.
Tuberculosis, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary embolism, bacterial meningitis and appendicitis are other common conditions with which patients get cheated for money.
Medical Superintendent of JDWNRH, DrDupthubSonam, said many people have come to hospital in Thimphu with wrong diagnosis from neighbouring countries. He said the hospital doesn’t maintain the data of people going abroad for treatment on personal expenses.
Bangkok Post on February 5 reported that Africa, India and other developing countries are awash in fake or sub-standard drugs for tuberculosis, fuelling the rise of treatment-resistant strains of TB.
“Health facilities in Bhutan are not perfect. But we are not bad. Somehow our people find it difficult to trust that kind of services we provide and succumb to fraud abroad,” said DrUgyenDophu.
According to Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, 20.3 percent of Bhutanese rated Bhutanese healthcare system excellent, while 53.4 percent said it is very good. 18.4 percent said it is good, 6.6 percent said it is fair and 1.4 percent it is very poor.
Health officials said that it is the 1.4-percenters who go abroad for treatment on their own expenses.