Referral has been difficult for most Bhutanese. For obvious reasons. 

Language is one and the culture another. And there is always the well-being of the patients to take care.

The news that the health ministry is reviewing the patient referral system and working towards instituting an innovative system to ease the challenges faced by patients and attendants is welcome. 

At the front and centre of the ministry’s plan is providing ease and comfort to the Bhutanese. It is about providing quality care above all else.

A change will do us good in many ways.

The ministry is also looking at bringing specialists into the country to treat the patients. If this is affordable, why not? We are looking at useful exchange of knowledge. How we facilitate these arrangements for the benefit of all—patients and doctors—should be made clear, however. Otherwise, the cost of hiring experts from abroad can be overwhelming.

The hospital recorded the highest referral cases in 2016-17 fiscal (1,478), which cost the government Nu 198.23 million. Health minister is of the view that for a nation with about 700,000 people, Bhutan does not need a huge number of medical specialists. That means we can have enough medical specialists. Coming from a public health specialist, the nation can afford to better our health system without too much expenditure.

As a health minister, she must make it happen while she is in the office. Otherwise, we would just be talking about problems and opportunities. But then, a lot can be achieved if our health system can go down to awareness in the most effective way. Disease, most of them, can be prevented and treated before it is too late. Referral burden can go down by much so. The per capita cost of treating a referral case can be reduced with an effective awareness programme.

Stressing on prevention is vitally important so.

The increasing cost of referral system of patients, service gaps in the health system and human resource constraint, some of the challenges the health system is facing today, can do done away with easily. And we must. 

The referral hospital in Thimphu now has head and neck surgeons.  Referral cost could go further down with the improvement of services in the hospital. 

Investing in specialists is one sure way to guarantee this.