Reply To: Traveling to Bangkok for Hospital Medical Care

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Something that most of us will experience at least once in our life is being hit up with a serious medical problem. Most medical problems fortunately can be fixed, but the serious medical treatments are going to cost a lot of money.

In the US, you might be OK if you have good medical insurance. If you don’t have insurance or are inadequately insured for your medical malady, you may be starting a financial problem that is going to be with you for perhaps 10 or 20 years, or even the rest of your life. If you are in this daunting situation, all alternatives must be looked at.

There may be government assistance by the State, or a repayment plan set up that will last for many years, or there is the option of getting the same medical care in another part of the world that is affordable. More than a million and a half people visit Thailand for serious medical care every year, making Thailand near the top of the list of places in the world to consider for treatment. In this report, I will give you information about my experience and what I have seen with other people that have gotten care in the Thai Kingdom to assist you in making the right choice.

In Thailand, there are private hospitals and public hospitals. For an American coming to Thailand for treatment, they should only consider private hospitals. In very general terms, you can expect to pay about 10% to 20% in Thailand of what the total cost would be for that service in the United States. Before you make a commitment to travel here for treatment, you should be able to get fairly accurate estimates of your total costs for your care. The more information you have about your diagnosis, the better your estimate will be. This is a very serious issue when you might be facing medical care that can cost $100,000 in the US. If that can be brought down to $10,000 or $15,000 by coming to Thailand, it makes a huge difference in your life for a very long time.

For me, growing up in the USA, I was always told that the best medical care in the world was in my country, and no other country could compare. I have since learned that is not exactly true. You can get your first indication of this in an American hospital by meeting the doctors. You are likely to have a doctor from India, China, Philippines, or from some other exotic place, like Thailand. These foreign born doctors in American hospitals are often doctors in training. And when they complete the training, they usually go home.

When you go to a hospital in Thailand, you will find most doctors speak perfect English, and have been trained in the West, including the US, Germany and Australia. The doctors in Thailand are as qualified as doctors in America.

Perhaps you have this idea (and I can understand why you may think this) that hospitals in Third World countries are basically Third World. Rustic accomodations, nurses fresh from the rice fields, and second hand medical equipment that have been handed down by the great hospitals of America. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A good room in a Thai hospital

The accomodations for patients staying in Thai hospitals are far superior to what is available in the US. Typically in the US, you share a room with another patient, or even perhaps 3 other patients. There is virtually no privacy, except a weak little cotton sheet that is hanging between you and your roommate(s). When you are checking into a Thai private hospital, you are usually given a choice of accomodations. You can have a shared room, a private room or a private suite. In your standard private room, you are likely to have a balcony to go out on for fresh air, a couch and nice chairs for your guests, and even another bed to accommodate your spouse or significant other to stay with you during the night.

The hospital staff, the nurses and the techs, in Thai hospitals are very different than the staff in US hospitals. For various reasons, US hospital staff have morphed into wearing “scrubs” (or a better description is “pajamas”). Perhaps because the hospital staff have been recipients of rough treatment by patients in the past, they themselves have become very gruff, barking orders, and pretty much abusing the patient’s patience. Hospital clients in the US are no longer regarded as “customers” responsible for generating the income of the whole industry, they are generally regarded as people that need to unquestionably do what the nurse says, move quickly, and wait whenever the staff deems it necessary. “Take a number, sit down and shut up.” It is definetly a relationship of the “bosses” vs. the ungrateful “recipients” of the bosses’ talent. It is not pleasant if you are the receiving end (and as a patient, that’s where we are).

When you go the reception of the Thai private hospital, you are likely assigned a nurse (or nurses’ aide) that will accompany you (or escort you) on your trips to the various departments that you must visit (like the Blood Lab, the X-ray, etc.). Your escort will speak decent English, and be dressed in a spiffy starched uniform with a little hat on top of her head with a cross on it. Wow, like in the old movies. Your escort and all the nurses and staff you meet are also dressed in spiffy uniforms and treat you with respect and courtesy. It is almost a shock to our system to have this higher level of service. In each department that you visit, the wait time is short, or there is no wait time at all. You start feeling good because of the service you are getting. If you have just been going to American hospitals, this may be a big shock for you.

When you meet the doctor, you are likely to be impressed. Almost all speak excellent English. They have the latest equipment, probably better than what you have seen in the US.

One of my problems is high blood pressure. In the US, I see a general practitioner doctor that is pleasant, and I do like her service. I have to try and get an appointment a week or two or three before I want the appointment, since they have to schedule me in. She looks at the results of my blood test and the other readings taken by the nurse in pajamas that assists the doctor.

I also go to a doctor when in Thailand for the same high blood pressure problem. I call the day before I would like an appointment to see my Thai doctor who is a Cardiac Surgeon, trained in Australia. I take all the tests prior to seeing him of course, and he has access to this information. He also has in his office a electronic sonogram machine that he hooks me up to and gives me a chance to see my heart as it is pumping in full color, and he gives me all the details of my heart, and shows me specifically where my problems are on the video screen.

It is a real education. He gives me information on supplements that contain Omega 3 and other ingredients that are beneficial in the reduction of my blood pressure, and explains to me how they work.

He prescribes the appropriate medicine for me, and my escort nurses’ aide takes me to the pharmacy to get this filled. My whole experience is on a much higher level than what I get with my appointment in the US. Later, any time between my semi-annual appointment, if I have a question about my treatment of blood pressure or I have an adverse reaction to medication, I can email directly to my doctor and will get a fairly quick response (have done this several times). My US doctor does not have this kind of communication with me.

In Thailand, I don’t have medical insurance (because of a rocky history in health matters), but my wife does. I pay cash for my visits. My typical semi annual visit for my blood pressure, including all the labs, meeting with the doctor and my medicine for a half a year, will cost me at the most $150 US. Back home in America, I would pay much more than that just for the medication.

If I ever require heart surgery, I will consider getting it in Thailand first, even though in the US there is some coverage for me by the V.A. and in a couple of years, Medicare.

If someone from the US with a rather serious medical situation decided to go for treatment in Thailand, and they did not have adequate insurance coverage in America, they would (1) save a huge amount of money, bringing the cost of the situation to a manageable level, and (2) have treatment equal or, more likely, much superior to what they would get in the US. That’s the bottom line. And stressing about the money you owe the hospital will not help you get over the problem.

Where to Go

Bumrungrad Hospital

The biggest private hospital in Thailand is the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. There are many good Thai hospitals spread all over the country, but the Bumrungrad is the most accustomed to working with people coming from the West. There is even a shopping area in the hospital that includes a Starbucks, and in much of the hospital you may think you are in a nice hotel, not a treatment center. This is the hospital that I would most recommend. It is centrally located in Bangkok, close to hotels, shopping and good restaurants. First step would be to go to their website at Bumrungrad Hospital, and start sending emails and making calls. You are likely to get very good attention to your requests.

Bumrungrad is the premium private hospital in Thailand. Other private hospitals in the country can be lower in cost, but not by huge amounts. If you must lower your costs, I would suggest you look at what else is available in Thailand. A pretty complete list of private Thai hospitals are on this website, Thai Medical Tourism, with direct links to each one that you can start communicating.

Thai Visa Forums is the expat site that can provide you with a lot of answers to types of care, where to go, and more reports to the level of treatment. The forum for health issues is at this location, Thai Visa Forum – Medical & Health Section. Good to look over, and if you have your own questions still unanswered, I would recommend that you become a member of the forum (it is free) and you can ask away. There are many qualified expats on the site that will help you.

Then, start making your travel plans. There are some specialty travel agencies in Bangkok that service medical travelers (Google them), or you can try your own regular travel agent. Air fare to Bangkok from the US usually runs from about $1100 to $1600 rt economy, so this has to be added in your mind to your medical expense. Time outside of the hospital in Bangkok is not expensive, with excellent hotels under $100 per night, down to as low as 25% of that. If you need assistance in travel plans, feel free to contact me directly and I can help make arrangements.

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