I only mention this because his illness forced me to spend far more time in hospitals than I ever hoped to spend. He spent almost three months in ICU unites, regular hospital rooms and nursing homes. He received kidney dialysis, CAT scans, X-rays, and almost every procedure you can think of. I saw first hand what the American medical system could do and I also I also had a front row seat to its downside.
When I mention to most people the idea of seeking medical treatment in another country, especially Thailand, it invokes a knee-jerk reaction. They couldn’t conceive of going to a hospital in Thailand. They assume the facilities are unsafe, unclean, and lacking in modern equipment.
This reaction is based mostly on ignorance.
Late last year I had the chance to visit the Bangkok Hospital in Ko Samui, Thailand. It was an eye opening experience.
ClientalThe clients of the hospital are approximately 50% foreigners and 50% local Thais. During my brief visit I’d say the breakdown was closer to 25% to 75%. As a private hospital on a tourist focused island, the breakdown isn’t surprising. Prior to coming to Thailand I assumed that the clients of private hospitals was close to 100% westerners, but that is not the case. Based on the few observations I made while visiting the hospital, I didn’t get the impression the hospital was only for rich Thais.
I had a basic check-up performed on me at the hospital. The check-up included blood work, EKG, and a CAT scan. I also met with a dentist who performed an anti-staining procedure and did analysis of my mouth gases. A full range of tests are available for checkups.
Common procedures which draw foreigners to specifically to Thailand for medical tourism are cosmetic surgery. This includes everything from teeth whitening to sex change operations. Common procedures which are performed at Bangkok Hospital Ko Samui include Rhinoplasty (nose jobs), abdominoplasty (tummy tucks), face lifts, liposuction, breast augmentation, and male-to-female gender reassignment.
Many of the common procedures and surgeries you’d find at most hospitals are also available.
Ko Samui is a small island so it doesn’t have many of the speciality facilities you would find in a city like Bangkok which has cancer and cardiac centers in addition to larger, private hospitals such as Bangkok Hospital and Bumrungrad International Hospital. If you are on Ko Samui and were in need of a specialist, you would either be transported to Bangkok or a specialists would be flown into Ko Samui,
ProfessionalismThe staff I encountered at Bangkok Hospital in Ko Samui was considerate and professional. The nurses wore a very traditional nurse outfit, which is not something I’ve seen in a US hospital. The ratio of staff to patients I felt was much higher than what I saw in the US.
The entire staff seemed to be fluent to reasonably fluent in English. I asked every doctor and dentist I encountered where they received their medical training, and all of them were educated in Thailand at one of the medical colleges in Bangkok.
The staff to patient ratio was extremely important to me. During my father’s hospital stay, we would often have to wait for 45 min to an hour to have a nurse respond to a request for help. Many US hospitals are understaffed and patient care suffers. I don’t see this issue being nearly as big of a problem at a Thailand hospital.
The Bangkok Hospital in Ko Samui isn’t a large facility, having only 50 beds. Individual patient rooms were on a par with, or superior to rooms I’ve seen in US hospitals. There were two types of rooms which were available: standard and VIP. The cost of a VIP room, which includes an in-room computer and guest room, is around $200/night, which is on a par with, or less than what you would pay at a US hospital for a shared room. A standard room is about half the price of the VIP room.
The campus area around the hospital was more like a resort than a hospital. I personally have never seen a hospital with such nice landscaping. The ability to take a walk in a garden or look out the window at something green is a huge plus. When my father was hospitalized, during most of his stay there was only a window overlooking a rooftop.
CostAlmost everything I’ve mentioned is on a par with what you would find in a western hospital. What really makes Thailand a destination for medical tourism is cost.
Many procedures can be had for 1/2 to 1/10 the cost of similar procedures in western countries. A full check-up, minus the CAT scan, cost approximately $70, which is a fraction of what the same battery of tests would cost in the US.
It is very often the fact that procedures are cheaper which makes people weary of seeking treatment in Thailand. There is a belief that cost is directly proportional to quality. If you pay less money, then you must be receiving sub-standard treatment. Spending more money (or more accurately, having your insurance company spend more money) is synonymous with getting better treatment.
Moreover, the Bangkok Hospital Ko Samui had a menu of prices for procedures and even offered sales on certain procedures.
Most westerners aren’t accustom to dealing with medical procedures being prices in the same way that you might purchase cars or computers.
This method of pricing, however, doesn’t lead to a reduction in quality any more than it does in other areas of the economy.
Most of the cost reductions you find in the medical industry in Thailand are due to a lower cost of living, but other savings come from cost competition and differences in the insurance/health system in Thailand.
Would I return to Thailand to receive medical treatment? Yes. Without question. In fact, I plan on doing it in the future. I intend on going to Thailand to personally get future checkups and dental treatment.
For elective procedures which may not be covered by insurance such as cosmetic surgery, LASIK, dental procedures and gender reassignment, going to Thailand is even more tempting. Depending on the procedure, even after factoring the cost of flying roundtrip to Thailand, hotels and meals it may still be cheaper to get treatment in Thailand.
I’d highly recommend at least looking into Thailand as an option for non-emergency procedures you might face in the future.