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My experience at a Thai hospital in Bangkok


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Ever since I was a little biddy boy, I have heard the mantra about American healthcare: “The Best Medical Care on Earth is in the Good Ole’ USA”. Now I am a bit older and a lot wiser, and have learned that it just ain’t so.

My wife and I were involved in a serious car crash. I escaped with no more scratches then what I get after trimming some bushes in the garden, but my wife had a very severe injury to her right hand. She had to have her hand literally reconstructed, and she has lost a middle finger and half of two others. Certainly not happy about losing part of an appendage, but very happy we did not lose a life (which at times was a real possibility). My wife stayed at the huge Bangkok International Hospital for nearly a month, and will have a couple of months of outpatient attention to her injury, and I now feel safe in reporting about the medical care in a good Thailand hospital from first-hand experience.

In Thailand, there are two types of hospitals: government hospitals which offer basic service at little to no cost for the general Thai public and the private hospitals, which are not government subsidized, and care is paid for by cash or covered by private health insurance, which is inexpensive for Thais and expats alike (that will be subject of another post on this site soon), luckily we did have Thai health insurance for us both.

Initially after our incident, we were delivered by locals that witnessed the accident to the closest hospital, which was a government shop (yes, the spirit of getting involved to help others in a crisis is very much alive in Thailand, thank God). We stayed there just to take care of the most immediate requirements, and then proceeded via ambulance to go quite a distance to Bangkok Hospital. Bangkok traffic is one of the worst in the world, and despite sirens and flashing lights, our ambulance inched forward to its destination. This is expected for an ambulance run in this city, so there is a lot of medical care provided inside the vehicle. After about an hour and half, we pulled into the Emergency Room of Bangkok General, and the medical staff jumped to our attention.

A word about the medical staff: they look and act much more professional than you will see in a typical American hospital. All nurses are dressed in white, spiffy and starched uniforms with the little nurses’ caps we see sometimes in old American movies from the 50’s or earlier. Bangkok Hospital is an International Hospital, so many of the staff speak other languages, most often English. There seems to be more nurses, more tech people and more doctors than I would see in the US. And Bangkok Hospital works on the philosophy that they do what the patient (customer) wants, and that is for immediate attention to injuries and pain, and also have the patient as comfortable as possible in every way. For me, this is a contrast to the US where nurses dressed in pajamas (aka scrubs) seemed to be mainly concerned about giving medical care, but not a great deal of attention to the small needs of the patient to make things comfortable. And absolutely no regard for the families involved.

Thai doctors almost universally speak English perfectly, and often other languages as well. Like American doctors, they are well trained, most having spent some time studying in the UK, Germany, the US, or Australia.

Bangkok Hospital is truly an International Hospital, with patients coming from all over the world. You will see Arabs, Africans and Australians, along with every other possible nationality. Hospitals actually competefor their reputation in Thailand (remember when America was all about competition?), and also compete with medical care available everywhere in the world. In order to get international customers, they have to provide superior service than what you will find in Dubai, Detroit, or on the Danube. And in my opinion, they do it, and do it very well.

In Bangkok Hospital, all rooms are private rooms, and all are much bigger than a private room in an American hospital. They are similar to a small suite in a nice hotel. They even have “bellmen” with hotel style carts to take your luggage (or whatever you have) up to your room. In the room, there is always a second bed designed for the spouse (again, providing the service that customers want and will be most comfortable with). I have stayed with my wife every day and every night as she went through her treatment, and I like to think that this has helped her to get better during her treatment. We also had a third bed added for my wife’s adult son to stay with us as well. Also in the room is full size refrigerator, microwave and personal safe (at no cost).

All the standard hospital food is excellent, with several styles of food for different cultures, and another menu is provided that delivers various cuisines from better restaurants in the area. The room is serviced every day by a cleaning crew similar to what you see in a good hotel. And of course there is wifi and television with stations in a dozen or so languages.

Within the hospital lobby there are at least two Starbucks, a MacDonalds, several Delis, Japanese restaurants, Indian restaurants, nice casual dining restaurants, restaurants catering to Muslim tastes, a cafeteria that is like a food court in a shopping mall and plenty of other shops, including a big 7-11. Also in the hospital lobby there is often a classical music quartet playing, sometimes with a singer, that is first rate. Everything is designed to make patients, family and visitors extremely comfortable about coming to Bangkok Hospital.

One of the large buildings on this huge hospital campus is specifically for heart and cardiac system issues, and this place is noted as one of the world’s best. There are also huge areas devoted to medical treatment of diabetes, spinal injuries, sports medicine and just about anything else that are major issues. And all of it is super clean, super modern, super professional looking, .with extremely polite service given by all sorts of people around the lobby. It is like there are hundreds of Concierges catering to every need.

I am no expert in evaluating a doctor’s performance, but as a patient here, the doctors come across as very professional, knowledgeable and helpful. Maybe we were just lucky with the doctors we ended up getting, but the professionalism from the doctors seemed much higher than the level I have gotten in the US. And the bottom line is that my wife will fully recover to the best level that could be expected with her injury.

But Bangkok Hospital does not accept Medicare or any other US government socialized medical system. They may take US private medical insurance (like Blue Cross), but that needs to be verified in the US. If you have to pay cash, the cost of staying at this hospital is about 10%-15% of the cost in a US hospital. Thai private medical insurance is available to expats, and pays 100% of the costs if you check into a hospital (under most plans). My wife has a good program with BUPA (the big Thai medical insurance company) and she pays the equivalent of $900 USD per YEAR at age 56. It will not go up in price as she gets older. And when (or if) she turns age 65, she gets an annuity retirement check from the policy each month, which will return much of what she paid in premiums before. This is the kind of system that evolves when the government is not controlling healthcare.

I am kind of an old hand at getting medical service in American hospitals. I have stayed in several US private hospitals (including one of the finest, Stanford Hospital) and government hospitals (VA hospitals) for very extended periods with a host of medical problems that hit me a dozen years ago. Compared to the service we seem to get at Bangkok Hospital, the US hospitals seem absolutely “third world”.

My personal opinion is that with more and more government interference, medical care has deteriorated in the US over the last several decades. Doctors in the US work under constant fear and pressure of litigation. The FDA has evolved into an agency designed primarily to protect big pharmaceutical companies, and the same holds true for the AMA. New treatments that do not originate from big pharma are quickly rejected. That’s why you will find some cancer treatments producing results in hospitals in Germany that will never even be introduced in the US (and few will even hear about them). America may have once been the leader and innovator in medical care, but I believe those days have passed. And at the same time, medical care costs in the US have skyrocketed to the point that no one, even the very high income earners can afford to pay directly for any kind of medical care in America out of pocket.

Some will find fault in my personal report, and will continue to praise American medical care as the best there is, but these people have blinders on that could be shattered by real experience at a premium hospital in Thailand. Without really direct personal comparison, I don’t think a person should rate American medical care over any other place.

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