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Thailand has so many hospitals offering medical care and procedure after procedure. Check out Bumrungrad Hospital or Bangkok Hospital. And have a doctor prescribe you antiobiotics. It's all covered by insurance, so enjoy.


Health in Thailand
Keeping yourself healthy long enough to abuse yourself again
 


"It was inevitable Thailand would develop a health tourism industry.  The country already had the vast tourist arrivals requiring medical care from time to time after abusing on drink, drugs, and dregs.  It was just a matter of time before Thailand went after citizens in other countries to cure their medical ailments before they could abuse themselves here on drink, drugs, and dregs. "  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


There is a common misperception that Thailand is a Third World basket case economy with commensurate medical care.  

There is also the opposite misperception among, obviously, different individuals that Thailand's hospitals are among the best in the world.  This depends upon which hospitals we're talking about.  As of 2010, the Ministry of Public Health listed slightly more than a thousand public hospitals and 316 private hospitals.  A small percentage of those private hospitals enjoy a reputation as showpiece hospitals, hospitals held up by Thailand to the rest of the world to show that Thailand can perform a bypass or a sex change or a hair transplant as good as the best of 'em, but at a fraction the cost.  Outside Bangkok and other key tourist areas where these showpiece hospitals operate, the claim that Thailand's hospitals are some of the best in the industry should be taken as seriously as Drew Barrymore's acting talents.    

hospital Thailand

Take your pick.  The Thai medical establishment is waiting for you and your wallet. 

In today's global economy, nations try to stand out any way they can.   6-7% of Thailand's economy is based on tourism.   Thailand has been playing its huge tourist influx to its advantage by encouraging arrivals to stop on by for a botox treatment or a crown implant.  The Tourism Authority of Thailand has gotten in on the act with a medical portal.  You can look up the procedure you desire and see who's performing it. The site boasts that as of 2013, Thailand has 17 Joint Commission International (JCI) certified hospitals.  This is an American certification, and for what it's worth, the standard by which consumers worldwide can assess whether a non-American hospital meets international standards.  In reality, there are likely a lot more non-JCI certified hospitals in Thailand that would more than suffice for most consumers' needs.  You must know how the game is played by now.  Certifying bodies convince a business why it needs certification and why they, as the certifying organization, are worth paying . 

medical procedure ThailandThe Bangkok Hospital Group (BGH) is the largest hospital conglomerate in the country.  The group contains the Bangkok Hospital chain, located in Bangkok, Hua Hin, Phuket, Pattaya, and beyond, as well as the well-known Samitivej, BNH, Phayathai, and Paolo Hospitals.  As of 2013, the BGH had 29 hospitals in the country and a lustful desire to expand. The group has holdings in Turkey, Singapore, China, and Malaysia.  BGH is well positioned to cash in on medical tourism.

Thailand's ultimate showpiece hospital is Bumrungrad and not in the BGH group.  Bumrungrad markets itself worldwide.  It's got referral offices in Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Mongolia, Burma, Nepal, Oman, and Vietnam to date, with no doubt, more on the way.  All this marketing costs in the way of commissions, which get passed on to you when Bumrungrad does your procedure.  I've gone to Bumrungrad twice.  Once, for dental procedures; and the second time, for an infection my wife was suffering from.  Bumrungrad isn't cheap, which is why there was a four year spread between the first and second visits.   We made the second visit at the beginning of the calendar year when our medical insurance deductible limits reset.  We have a $400 annual deductible -- the first $400 of medical expenses each year, wherever we incur them, are not covered.   To reach our deductible limit faster, we went to Bumrungrad, as Bumrungrad can charge two to three times the price of a similar private Thai hospital. 

This is not to say that the Bangkok Hospital Group, which has a 20% stake in Bumrungrad, is such a bargain.  They're not.  My wife has made visits to Samitivej, Bangkok Hospital, and San Paolo.  All were overpriced.   San Paolo's Hua Hin branch admitted her for overnight 'testing'.  The testing was a waste of time and money and unearthed nothing about what my wife was suffering from.  You can almost imagine the senior managers telling staff to upsell San Paolo services any way they can to improve the bottom line.  Today, our hospital of choice in Bangkok is Bangkok Adventist Hospital, a private hospitals whose costs fall somewhere between a public and showpiece private hospital.  On my wife's recent visit there, she saw two different doctors for two different conditions, receiving two different batches of medicines.  The cost was 45% of going to Bumrungrad for just one condition, and she found the service and doctor's attention far more personal. 

Nonetheless, for most foreigners in the Kingdom, the slick medical marketing convinces them to look no further than Bumrungrad or one of Bangkok Hospital's overpriced brands.  It surely doesn't hurt that these gorillas have locked up agreements with the international insurers.  If we were to visit Bumrungrad or BNH, we would have to front no cash.  The hospital bills the insurer directly, after which we have to reimburse the insurer anything insurance doesn't cover.  With the smaller guys, like Bangkok Adventist or Bangkok Christian or a myriad of other hospitals located throughout the country, we have to pay up front and then lodge a claim with the insurer for reimbursement.  Foreigners seem to accept spending more if they don't pay up front. 

 A Real Checkup On Medical Care In Thailand

Let's ignore all the hype about medical tourism promoted hospitals in Thailand for a moment and examine the health caremedical tourism Thailand landscape of Thailand in general.  As of 2012, the life expectancy of the total Thai population at birth was 73.83 years; in the United States, 78.24.  American life expectancy is boosted by its much lower infant mortality rate.  According to the CIA World Factbook for 2010, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 6, on par with Poland, Slovakia, New Caledonia, Croatia, and Qatar;  Thailand's, 15.9.  Keep in mind that the United States spends a shocking 15.2% of its gross domestic product on health care, the highest in the world, and Thailand just 4.3%.  Higher health care expenditure doesn't necessary lead to better outcomes.   Check out Uganda. The life expectancy is 54.1 years and infant mortality is 64.2, yet Uganda spends 7.4% of its GDP on health. 

To make a gross generalization based on the data, standard Thai medical care, the type the average Thai receives, can't be all that shi--y if Thais, with minimal medical expenditures, are staying alive just 6% shorter.  You might want to look in the direction of a showpiece private hospital when birthing your own child in the Kingdom or having a complicated procedure like a penis transplant.  Other than that, normal Thai hospitals will probably do the trick for substantially lower cost.

The finer hospitals make note of their doctors' credentials. Bumrungrad has more than 1,200 full-time physicians and consultants on staff.  The hospital doesn't keep it a secret that 200 are U.S. board certified and a large unspecified percentage carry board certification from the UK, Australia, Germany, or Japan.  The much less expensive Mission Hospital still sports docs who've done fellowships, post-graduate education, or possible medical degrees abroad.  Such credential tooting is done to put potential patients' minds at ease.  A Thai doctor is somehow considered competent if he's been exposed in some small part to the medical education system of a more advanced nation.  There might be something to this when the chosen procedure is complex and requires specialized training.  But if all that's being contemplated is a nose job or a hair transplant, a Thai doctor holding a local degree from Chulalongkorn or Mahidol should not set off any alarm bells.

You could say you pay more to a private well known hospital to have staff speak to you and treat you in your own language in a setting that more closely resembles hospitals back in your own country, but without having to wait in a long queue or pay in spades.   Cut out the glamor and glitz you're paying for at the showpieces, and you can save a dear bit of cash.

Doctors In Thailand

Trends, procedures, techniques, and machines from more advanced nations find their way here eventually.  This same care is attentively administered to patients at lower cost than they'd pay back in the nations from whence everything came.   There is some lag.  An innovative new procedure in the West won't be practiced in Thailand until the procedure becomes mainstream and falls in price.  Thailand, like many another Asian nation, copies at lower cost what doctors in other nations have originated.  Witness LASIK eye surgery.  The first implementation of LASIK in the United States was in the early 1990's.  A few years after that, South Koreans were performing it.  Another half decade later, Thailand got it. 

With some some slight differences, medical tourism works much like any product sold in international trade.  Products once manufactured in Europe and America are now manufactured in lower cost countries to save money.    And as once specialized medical procedures become mundane, lower cost countries and more average doctors start practicing them.  Medical tourism, like international trade, doesn't move in just one direction.  For extremely complicated life and death procedures (i.e. high tech products), it is not uncommon to see wealthier privileged citizens of poorer countries seek treatment (i.e. import such products) from more expensive countries.  When King Hussein of Jordan was suffering from lymphatic cancer in 1998, he didn't head to Bumrungrad. He went for treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, USA.    

antibiotics ThailandAs Thailand is more a low cost practitioner of techniques innovated elsewhere, expect competency over sheer brilliance. Thai doctors are not excellent diagnosticians. Your ailment must be obvious for them to catch it.  When I was suffering from an infection in my thumb and went to San Paolo, any person with eyes could've figured out my problem.  When my wife went to the same hospital with an unknown ailment and a few symptoms, the doctors just wasted our money and time by admitting her. 

It's antibiotic land in the Kingdom.   It seems that no matter what affliction you enter the hospital or clinic with, the doctor will prescribe you a dosage of antibiotics.  Even a yeast infection, which itself can be caused by antibiotics usage, will be treated with antibiotics.  Fever, cold, excess gas, the flu -- have some antibiotics with a side order of more antibiotics.  It reminds me of the joke I used to make as a teenager about dermatology being the best kept secret into the medical profession.  When a patient arrives with a skin problem, a dermatologist prescribes medicines or refers him to another specialist.  The dermatologist never really has to do any real diagnosis himself.  Every Thai doctor is like that caricature dermatologist.

You would do yourself a great favor self diagnosing yourself whenever possible.  Go onto the internet and at least narrow down what you might have.  If you can visit a pharmacy and obtain the medicines yourself without visiting a doctor, all the better.  Should you need to see a doctor, at least mention what you have discovered yourself.   If you could be suffering from malady A or malady B, but a certain test C is required to determine which, tell the doctor.  Narrow down their options for them or you run the risk of them wasting your time and money. This is probably not such bad advice if you're going to see a doctor in your own country, too.

These warnings aren't germane if you're coming over to Thailand for a specific procedure.  You would know in advance you were coming for a tummy tuck, hip replacement, or face lift.  In those instances, I would demand photographs or testimonials to genuinely assess whether this doctor is worth the money saved.   Medical Costs In Thailand -- Are They Really That Cheap?

For routine procedures, Thai medical costs are undoubtedly reasonable.  A typical teeth cleaning at a dental clinic could run USD 25-35.  A filling, USD 25.  A quick consult with a doctor for something minor could incur a USD 15 charge. 

Looking at the cost comparison chart at the top of the page, it appears that Thailand is a bargain for knee replacements, angioplasties, and hysterectomies compared to the United States.  India could be 10-30% cheaper per procedure, but India doesn't have the iced cold brews, the shapely Thai vixens, and the picturesque beaches.  For most visitors from abroad, Thailand will be the more pleasant tourist experience as they're having their breast removed.  In India, if that breast were to remain, local Indian men would squeeze it childishly like a desperate teen at the prom. 

But look more closely at that chart in the last column, to Singapore.  Compared to Thailand, a heart bypass is 70% more expensive.  Less risky procedures either cost the same or are 30% more expensive.  And yet Singapore's consumer prices are twice Thailand's, rent is five times Thailand's, restaurant prices two-and-a-half times Thailand's.  I've been to Singapore.  On a cost of living comparison, the United States is cheaper than Singapore.

Singapore is a First World country with First World medical care.  It's a free trading country.   Its medical costs likelymedical cost Thailand reflect the true cost to perform such procedures if bureaucracy, insurance companies, and kickbacks aren't factored in.  Singapore is considered honest.  It ranked as the fifth least corrupt country in the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012.  (Thailand ranked 88, India 94]   If Singapore is the benchmark for fair pricing for medical procedures, Thailand and India are actually quite expensive given their much lower costs of living.

Publishing the American costs is deceiving.  First of all, America's health care system is in shambles and in need of a total revamp.  The Washington Post published an article documenting how out-of-line American medical prices are for a number of different procedures.  A routine office visit to a physician in France that would cost $30 there costs $68-176 in the United States. A $264 angiogram in France could cost as much as $2,430 in the U.S.  By those measures, any country, not just Thailand, appears cheaper.  And second, Americans don't pay out of pocket those ludicrous prices.  An American in need of a bypass doesn't really pay $130,000.  His insurance covers most of it.  If he's uninsured, as 45m Americans are, none of the $130,000 would be covered, but he also wouldn't have $10,000-11,000 just sitting around either to spend on a procedure in Thailand or India.

American and European medical insurance isn't likely to cover luxury procedures, non-life and death procedures that aren't essentials. Things like eye reshaping, skin whitening, and sex changes.  It is these procedures that would be best shown on a comparison chart.  I met an American from the San Francisco area who was boasting in Phuket of his hair transplant, for which he paid $10,000 at Bumrungrad.  At those prices, he could've had surgery done in the United States. 

Do your research and do it well before you fly over to Thailand to have your face redesigned.  In the end, you might find it's cheaper to stay at home.

 


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