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Thai medical tourism and Bumrungrad Hospital

Travel Forums Asia Thai medical tourism and Bumrungrad Hospital

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1. Posted by lakegirl (Budding Member 10 posts) 4y

I returned from Bangkok last week after a two week stay during which I had nasal polyp surgery at Bumrungrad Hospital. I posted to this forum in January asking if anyone had any experience of the place in an effort to do my research before commiting to sensitive surgery in a foreign country. Thanks for all your responses, which I took into consideration. Here is the result; great! I had a wonderful experience both in Bangkok and at the hospital. The staff was competent, thorough, and very kind and concerned. I couldn't help wondering how much American nurses would love to be able to care for their patients as thoroughly and gently as the nurses at Bumrungrad could. Pre-op tests revealed a minor heart blockage that I had known nothing about, and within an hour I had an appointment with a cardiologist. This appointment cost me a whopping extra sixty dollars. The EENT specialist decided to do a CAT scan when he realized the extent of my polyps, and I had the scan within an hour and a half, with the results available to him on computer within a half an hour, for my second, unscheduled visit of the day. The hospital seemed state of the art to me, and rivaled anything in the States, although because I have lacked insurance, I have been unable to access those great hospitals for several years. The system is efficient, and you are finished with paying or paperwork within a half an hour after the appoitment. The pharmacy is directly across from each cashiers' office for each department, and you simply pick up your meds after payment where they are waiting for you. Some people have complained of the hotel atmosphere (there are Starbucks and fast food chains in the lobbies) and the "assembly line atmosphere" of the efficient system, but I found it neither cold not unwelcoming, and there were plenty of healthy choices and welcoming spots for my daughter and her friend to spend waiting hours as I completed appointments and surgery. They were also comped wifi access which is available throughout the hospital. And efficient and fast is preferable to waiting for hours, days, or weeks, isn't it?
All in all, the trip with all the tickets for three people (two in business class) hotel for thirteen nights ( two bedroom suite with terrace in the best district) tours, food, shopping and medical expenses was still no more than two thirds the price of the surgery alone in the States. In my research, some writers have mentioned that American insurance companies may start sending people to Thailand for treatment in order to cut costs. I don't see how that can be avoided. It is said that the American medical system will collapse in the space of a few years due to costs and inefficiency. Now that system faces a third battle front from medical tourism.

2. Posted by nokey3 (Budding Member 11 posts) 4y

I applied for a Fulbright to study medical tourism in Thailand, particularly at Bumrungrad. Unfortunately, my contact in the country dropped out at the last minute and screwed my chances of getting it, but it's a great topic. With hospitals in Thailand, India, the Philippines, and some in Central/South America, it's definitely cheaper (all told) for people to travel, get a world-class surgery or treatment, and vacation for a week than it is to get things done in the US, often between 10-50% of the cost. Insurance portability is gaining ground, and I found several companies (usually big ones that can afford it) that offer to pay up to $10,000 for you to go abroad for certain surgeries. Amazing, isn't it? And you know they wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't saving them a huge amount of money. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for posting that -- found it very interesting and good to hear that the service was so excellent. Makes you wonder why more people don't do it...? I probably don't understand all the economics behind it, but as someone going into medicine, it seems like it is a great way to alleviate some of the pressure on our current medical system, as it's more affordable and the quality is so high. Travel seems to concern a lot of people, and the accessibility is an issue, but there are plenty of people that, when faced with a $50,000 bill for their surgeries and hospital stay and follow up appointments would probably gladly pay $10,000 for everything (and a cool trip to boot!).

3. Posted by Curt1591 (Respected Member 230 posts) 4y

In Southern California, my sister's asthma has been acting up. She spends most of her day working on breathing.

She called to see her doctor a couple weeks ago. She got an appointment in March!

I guess, if she goes blue, there is always the emergency ward. That's only a half day's wait!

4. Posted by lakegirl (Budding Member 10 posts) 4y

I am sorry to hear about the woman with asthma. This seems so typical nowadays in the States as even those with insurance find themselves facing more and more delays. Asthma is a known killer, and must be kept under control. but that can't be done with emergency room visits, and waiting for a month for a doctor's appointment is often dangerous. Now those with private plans in California face 39% premium hikes, according to one of the major for-profit companies. Their representatives say the hikes are for exactly the same reasons that Obama has put forward for health care reform. Medical bankruptcies account for at least forty percent of all bankruptcies in America.
There will be a shift in medical services from the American system to overseas. The only things holding it back so far that I can see is that natural reluctance of Americans to reject their own, to travel abroad, and perhaps an effort on the part of corporate media and the AMA pr to conceal the reality of the situation. I feel that I was a groundbreaker in taking the initiative to seek out these money-saving alternatives, and that it was more natural to me because I have lived all over the world. But I truly believe that there will come a day when an ordinary Midwesterner such as my family members and friends back in Minnesota will seriously consider medical tourism as an alternative. Perhaps these market forces, as they come into play, will be the driving force that causes true reform in the American health system. I have lived in Dubai for the past year, and have seen globalization at work here; and it declares that America is no longer the center of the universe economically. At Bumrungrad, the third language after Thai and English is Arabic, and there were days in the hopstital when I felt I had never left the Gulf because there were so many Arab nationals as patients. These are the Arabs who used to go to the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. America will learn that, having outsourced her managemnt systems and education, she has undercut her unique superiority in medical facilities, and other businesses. Politicians who encourage medical savings accounts will be surprised to see where those accounts will end up being spent. It is ironic that the competition the insurance companies and medical providers are trying to prevent from the U.S. government is going to come from overseas.

5. Posted by Peter (Admin 5495 posts) 4y

Thanks for reporting back lakegirl!

6. Posted by wildfk (Respected Member 454 posts) 4y

I have to say that there are even in your aparently benign report some very disturbing features.
firstly your analysis of the hospitals competence in treatment and diagnosis.this is usually obtained by statistical analysis.

Secondly the diagnosis of a liitle extra problem with your heart - now why was that?
This is sort of thing often a matter that is decided by hospitals with greater consideration given to profitability than the best treatment for the patient.

I also think that a hospital that considers the inclusion of fast food businesses under its own roof as acceptable has got a lot of explaining to do.

Lets face it Bumrungrad and many other hospitals in Thailand have done a great job of SELLING their services to foreigners - all to the benefit of the hospital as a profit-making org.

It does not however address the underlying problems of poorly trained staff, arrogant doctors who are "untouchable" when it come to mistakes and the general philosophy of profit before health.

I'm glad you had a good experience - one would hope that the majority of customers do have a positive experience - that's how the company gets more customers - whether your treatment was the best or necessary is surely up to an independent expert?

To others - BEWARE - treatment in Thai hospitals can end up very unsatisfactory and expensive regardless of how careful or "lucky you are. don't be fooled by leather chairs a fish-tank and a Starbucks - they are no substitute for good medical practices and sound patient care.

There have already been disasters and there will be more - be on your guard - it might help a little if you have some medical knowledge too!

as for comparisons - well US has had a medical crisis for decades and it's a shame that a country that has so much money finds its poorer unsuspecting patients slipping into the hands of "Big Medicine" and all it entails here in Thailand.

remember all health care systems have their problems but in Thailand there is little or no chance of comeback - please bare this in mind!

[ Edit: Edited on 02-Mar-2010, at 00:09 by wildfk ]

7. Posted by lakegirl (Budding Member 10 posts) 4y

Thanks for the reply. I have been a diabetic for thrity seven years, and was married to a man with extensive health issues for twenty two years, and arranged his care because he was a Saudi national. I am very familiar with the American medical system from its best (when I was married and wealthy) to its worst (when I was unemployed, homeless, and relied on emergency room visits just to survive). I have seen the full range of possibilitiies, and did not walk into the medical tourism issue as a novice. I did my research as thoroughly as was possible for someone outside of the medical community to do, and in the end, weighed the possibilities of medical mishap, lack of legal recourse, and all of the negatives I had run across in researching this topic and this hospital.. Arrogant doctors exist all over the world, I have encountered my fair share in the States over my thirty seven years as an insulin dependent diabetic. As for the possibility of suing in the States in case of a mistake, it takes years to do so, and tons of money, and often the damage has been done. It is very difficult in the States to get success rates from hospitals for procedures, and prices for procedures, expecially when you have to get all the different doctors and specialists and offices involved. Do bad things happen at Bumrungrad? Statistically speaking, there is no doubt that they must. Are there arrogant doctors? Probably, although none of the five I worked with were. I found them thorough, caring, and in the best cases, kind beyond mere professionalism.
Anytime a person is looking for medical care, they should do their research. In the States, we have accepted the all-knowingness of doctors for too long. Only recently have there been calls for educated consumers of medical care who can make educated choices. This should be the case in any search for medical care.
I took the advice of some of the people who have written online about ways to have a better experience. I did not go alone; I went with my adult daughter. I asked questions, I was proactive, and was familiar with the basics of the procedure. I was alert to which medicines were being prescribed and made sure that they were necessary. I didn't worry too much about having my organs harvested for sale on the black market as some sites warned might happen, as I am fifty three years old and such an old diabetic that my organs are only fit for medical research, not resale! So I didn't fit that profile.
In short, I did my research, asked questions from every source and side I could think of, and educated myself. Then I made calculated decisions, and ended up with a great experience I know that some people haven't. I knew that some people haven't when I decided to proceed. But I have friends in the States who lost legs to gangrene that wasn't recognized even though they were in the hospital. Mortality rates in the States and accidental malfeasance rates are soaring. So one must choose carefully, and wisely. Insurance rates just soared seventy-five percent for some California businesses, and fifty percent of bankruptcies in the States are due to medical bills. Things are going to change due to economic pressure, I have no doubt of it.

8. Posted by nokey3 (Budding Member 11 posts) 4y

Wildfk,

I guess I'm curious as to why you are warning against hospitals such as Bumrungrad? Have you had a bad experience or known someone who has? It sounds like you might have reasons for the warnings.

I haven't used the services of a foreign hospital, but as I mentioned, I did quite a bit of research on it, especially Thailand. Bumrungrad is one of a select group of foreign hospitals accredited by JCI (Joint Commission International), so they pass muster -- technically speaking -- on plenty of fronts. Speaking to your point about "selling" their services, I think that's only natural for a private hospital that caters to medical tourism. Arrogant doctors...yeah there will always be a few of those, but I highly doubt that Bumrungrad is filled to the brim with them. Fast food in a hospital is a criminal, no matter what country :). And habitually ordering (what turn out to be unnecessary) tests is surely a sign of trying to make a profit. Everything I read said that they're staff was incredibly professional and well-trained. And when I was doing my research several years ago, I had a hard time finding anyone who had a bad experience. There are, again, bound to be people that don't have an excellent time, but as i mentioned to lakegirl, if you are without insurance and face the potential of a $50,000 bill (at maybe a not-so-great hospital in the US), and you could get the same at a world-class facility in Thailand for $10,000, what would you do? There is more room for legal recourse in the US, yes, but that's a big reason why costs are so high here. So yes, one has to be very careful in weighing their decision, but to say that Bumrungrad is a money-mongering corporation with arrogant doctors and a poor staff is undoubtedly a little unfair...no? The nature of their business protects them against the need for legal recourse, in a way. Because they rely on "selling" their services, marketing, word of mouth, they can't afford to have big mistakes and lots of screw ups because then no one would go. People go there electively, so they must continue to perform at a very high level in order for people to make a very long trip from Europe, the US, or the Middle East, which are their three main markets.

I'm not trying to be an apologist for the hospital, and as I've said, I haven't used one and haven't been to Bumrungrad, but I did take a little issue with your almost entirely negative reaction to it, and I'm just curious why? My research and logic tells me that some of the things you've said can't be the whole story.

9. Posted by Curt1591 (Respected Member 230 posts) 4y

Quoting nokey3

Wildfk,

I guess I'm curious as to why you are warning against hospitals such as Bumrungrad? Have you had a bad experience or known someone who has? It sounds like you might have reasons for the warnings..... and I'm just curious why?

I think we are all curious. It's been asked before, but always left unanswered.

I have had extensive experience in Stateside healthcare. Over the last decade and a half, I have had substantial experience in Thai healthcare, mostly Bumrungrad, the last 3 years. When people ask for experiences, I relate mine.

Beyond what you've heard and read, what is your personal experience?

[ Edit: Edited on 02-Mar-2010, at 16:48 by Curt1591 ]

10. Posted by wildfk (Respected Member 454 posts) 4y

Of course the limitations and failings of the US health system in no way mitigates the failings of the Thai system.

It IS however very sad that those failings in the States have forced people into medical tourism....this is a sad reflection on what is considered by many to be the richest most successful nation on earth, yet they can't supply satisfactory medical care to their own citizens who have to resort to the vagaries of the healthcare of other far poorer nations.

Users beware!

if the best you've ever had is US healthcare then you may not according to the above notice the difference.