Is it safe to have surgery done in the Philippines?
During my stay in the Philippines, I had a few encounters with hospitals and I have seen rural clinics as well as University hospitals from the inside. I even had some experience on the operating table myself. Nothing serious but enough to know a little about the quality of health care in the Philippines.
I must say that the government hospitals are not my preferred hospitals, although I have spoken to expats who received excellent care there, especially when they used Phill Health insurance or paid cash.
First of all, you have to know that by law, in Filipino hospitals you have to make a downpayment, and when you were in in-patient, you are not allowed to leave until you have paid the bill in full or signed to a payment agreement with monthly installments.
Be prepared when entering a Filipino hospital to have some cash with you
Private clinics versus Government clinics
When visiting a private clinic you have to pay cash. Usually, there is a 50% downpayment for the planned procedure and on the procedure day, you pay the rest of the amount, which is given to you upfront in an estimate that is quite correct.
Needless to say that private clinics have a higher standard of healthcare than hospitals owned by the government. Hospitals run by Chinese doctors come highly qualified and recommended but also the private clinics owned by trained Filipinos, who usually got their education abroad.
In private clinics, you either have a room for yourself or with 1 or 3 other patients. In-State hospitals and even university hospitals, you share a room with up to 7 people. In those hospitals family is sitting around you, bringing food, that is stored on the nightstand, and the cleaning of the public areas is totally depending on the mood and capacity of the cleaning staff.
Do not expect a lot of hygiene in rural clinics, they are staffed with doctors from larger cities in training and although the doctors do their best and are very well trained, the nurses and other staff are really undertrained.
They know what to do, but when it comes to making decisions or keeping a tab on things it is rather sloppy. Usually, rural clinics provide first-line care, from which you are taken to a nearby city with a proper hospital for specialized care.
In most hospitals you pay per stage like you have your bloodwork done, you pay first then the test request is taken in the lab, you need an X-ray, and you pay upfront at the cashier in the X-ray department. And so on. Every cashier has its own payment slips, forms, and waiting time which makes hospital visits very time-consuming.
Hygiene in Filipino hospitals
In the rural clinics, I visited an ER a few times, and I must say, it is not clean, instruments are clean, but the tables, the sheets, and the floors in the hospitals I visited had blood all over. It was even on the chairs and walls. They used gloves but not all of them, like the nurse putting on a bandage on a patient did not wear gloves. And in the lab they seldom wear them. I have only seen a lab technician wearing gloves while drawing my blood once. That was in a private lab.
There is little to no respect for privacy, curtains are closed around you but people keep walking in and out, even bystanders. They are so curious, take photos, and love the drama. At one point I had to ask the nurse to remove people from interfering with my son’s treatment after a motorcycle crash with a dog.
The times I visited a patient in a rural clinic I promised myself to never ever end up in a bed like that. The smell, the lack of hygiene, and the crowded rooms worried me a lot. Hardly any sheets or bedlinen, dirty matrasses, I saw a cleaning lady mopping the floor with a mop that looked so dirty, long black hairs stuck to it. And in the toilet, to be shared by patients and family, there was no soap nor disinfectant while the ward was for patients suffering from diarrhea. It was more filthy than a toilet in an average Filipino mall.
In the operating theaters, the cleaning is on a more professional level. When I visited Siliman University Hospital I learned that in the new day-patient operating rooms the instruments are sterilized in a modern way. But that part of the hospital was brand new and still had the smell of fresh paint hanging in the air.
You can read about my experience in that hospital in this article
The private-owned clinics are more efficient, more organized and have higher standards of hygiene, and owned by someone outside the Philippines, they have standards like in Europe or America and see to them.
When I visited a private clinic in Batangas, the toilets had disinfectant and a cleaning schedule that was signed off every half an hour.
Signs on the walls in and near the toilet about hygiene and how to wash your hands and what germs can do if you don’t rinse properly.
Would I have surgery in the Philippines?
Yes, I would. As you could read, I had some minor surgery done and visited the ER on a few occasions. What bothers me is the lack of privacy. That really is an issue for me. When I’m sick or wounded I don’t want that to show up on someone’s Facebook.
Or, like in my case, the doctor holding the cyst he removed from my head in his hands entered the waiting room, and showed it to my son stating it was not cancer while all Filipinos were gasping at the bloody thing. It had the size of a golf ball and he was so excited about it. They even asked if I wanted to take pictures of it.
If I have a say in it I would prefer a university hospital over a rural clinic, and a private hospital over a university hospital. Health care in the Philippines is very affordable and even a private clinic is an option when you do not have a lot of cash.
When I plan a surgery,
I would check how the standards in the hospital are
I would read reviews from others
I would ask about the equipment used (modern or outdated)
I would ask about the hygiene standards
When it is an unplanned visit like when I am in an accident, I just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. I know they do the best they can with the equipment available. And I know I have to keep in mind that I live in a developing country and that was a choice I made voluntarily, so I have to accept the ways of the land.
Is it safe to have surgery in the Philippines?
There is fast-growing health tourism in the Philippines, clinics that offer specialized surgery and procedures including hotelstay and aftercare. Those packages are very expensive, but the quality of healthcare is very good I am told.
You can visit the Philippines for esthetic surgery, dental work as well as health issues. Mainly in Manila and Cebu, but also in some specialized clinics in other parts of the country.
Is it safe to have surgery in the Philippines? I would say yes, depending on the doctor, specialist, or surgeon, and depending on the quality of the hospital, the age of their equipment and the hygiene standards, and your condition. Like in any hospital in the world surgery involves certain risks, For example, I certainly would not have a kidney transplant in a rural hospital in the Philippines. I think I would travel to a larger city and find a hospital with a specialization in that area. I know expats that have very good experiences with having heart surgery and even long surgery in state hospitals. Others have very bad experiences at Siliman University hospital where I had my good experience. It all depends, but overall I would say it is safe to have surgery done in the Philippines. If you chose your hospital and doctor wisely or when you book a health tourism package.
Disclaimer: This article is written from observation and experience. And not from research or study. It is written from the perspective of common sense of hygiene and hospitals, but not from a professional point of view.