I never expected that I would have a follow up to this medical-themed post so soon after I wrote it. The first part of this post about Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai took place about a month ago. Although it was only a small sampling of the medical care here in Thailand, and was completely positive and relatively stress free, I felt I had enough to say about this important topic. The second part of this post, which happened just this weekend, was a bit scarier and a lot more stressful. Our remote location compounded our fear and stress.
Written September 29:
When you move to a developing country, peace of mind is important. It is especially important in matters relating to you kids’ quality of life. School and a home, were top on the list; two items that we were able to tick off pretty early in our planning. Just in the last few weeks, we ticked off a few more big items; our visas are final, we have one year guardian and education visas, so we have no need for visa runs like many expats living here on tourist visas; we have a dentist that is among the standard of care that we had in California; we have health insurance that came in under budget; and, finally, and most importantly, we have tested the medical care and were blown away . . .
We self-diagnosed Frank’s back pain as a kidney stone. He had textbook symptoms with none of the warning signs. Still, 3 weeks later and 3 days before getting on a plain to SFO, he was still having pain. A family friend/doctor referred us to the Chiang Mai Branch of Bangkok Hospital. At 1 pm on Tuesday, he made a call and had a 2 pm appointment.
Bangkok Hospital is Chiang Mai’s newest hospital. It is currently celebrating it’s one year anniversary. It is the most beautiful hospital I have ever seen. The sparkling lobby looks like a 5 star hotel, with a registration desk, our first stop at 2 pm. Picture taken for a Bangkok Hospital ID card, insurance recorded, and Frank was escorted to the nurse station across the gleaming lobby for vitals. Remember, we called just one hour before, and by 2:15 pm, we were sitting in front of a kidney specialist. Medical history and an exam were completed by the doctor, and by 2:30, Frank was taken across the lobby for a CT scan for a more definitive diagnosis.
By 3:15 he was back down in the doctor’s office and he confirmed that it was a kidney stone and that it had passed. 3:30 pm. We were sent to the cashier, where we waited for about 15 minutes, and were out by 3:52 pm. Total cost was about 9000 baht, or $300. Our out of pocket was $200, going towards our deductible.
Less than 3 hours from start to finish, we had an answer. Once within the the hospital, Frank was escorted no more than 250 meters for the next step. Everyone spoke English, everything was clearly and concisely explained, the experience exceeded our expectations on every count. It was by far, the most efficient and complete, medical experience we had ever had. The same experience at home would have likely been dragged out by one week, at least, maybe a little shorter with Kaiser, but definitely not down to 3 hours, even if we had gone to the ER. Our closest comparative experience was in 2010 when I went to the Marin General ER with my first major migraine, one saline drip and a CT scan later, it was $12,000, and we were there for about six hours. And, I was told to visit my doctor for the next steps. Not completely resolved.
Thailand is Asia’s leader in medical tourism. In 2014, it was estimated to be a $4 billion industry, or just over 1% of Thailand’s GDP. This industry has grown by 10-15%, year on year. Thailand’s top hospital, Bumrundgrad Hospital in Bangkok, also rated one of the top ten hospitals in the world, has been taking foreign patients for over 20 years. Bangkok Hospital is the largest and fastest growing private hospital group and has grown to 17 hospitals throughout Thailand, including one dedicated to cardiology and one to cancer.
We were back at Bangkok Hospital a few days later for another unrelated issue, in and out within an hour, meds in hand, $0 out of pocket, with the same efficiency, so we are pretty sure these are not isolated experiences.
The last, and most crucial, peace of mind item on our list, ticked off.
The following post was written this morning, October 26:
Mae Sot is a gritty border town that has been pushed to its limits for the last two decades by a steady stream of Burmese refugees. It is the most diverse population I have ever experienced, and reminded me more of Mombasa, Kenya than anything I have ever seen in Asia. Look up any other location in Thailand on Pinterest and you’ll see Pins of beautiful white beaches, fairy tale temples, elephants, all a tourist’s dream. Look up Mae Sot and you’ll see Pins of orphanages, children rummaging through garbage dumps, skeletal stray dogs, and refugee camps. Despite these challenges, it is a fascinating city and I can’t wait to go back.
On our drive into Mae Sot, Alex started off with some mild cramps, which by the end of the drive developed into extreme lower stomach pain on the right side, along with a fever and a severe headache. Nakorn Maesot International Hospital was only 7 minutes away from our hotel, and had been open for less than one year. Frank and I were freaking out just a bit because we were not in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, near a more established hospital.
I’ll spare the details to protect my teenage daughter’s privacy, but a thorough examination with lab work and a CT scan ruled out appendicitis, malaria and a few other viral concerns. The hospital was immaculate. We had a woman from Myanmar, a hospital receptionist who spoke beautiful English, at our side the whole time, translating for the nurses. Our German educated doctor was a thorough diagnostician. We were there for about 4 hours, they ruled out all dangers, gave her a big dose of antibiotics, and sent her home. Clearly Alex had some kind of virus, the fever persisted, so we decided to cut our trip short, leaving at dawn, we were back in Chiang Mai by noon, yesterday. This morning, she woke up in her own bed, has not had Tylenol or a fever for 12 hours, and is finally eating.
Clearly, Mae Sot is not a prime location for a hospital geared toward medical tourism, so we were a little concerned about the quality of care. Tourists who come to Thailand for medical procedures usually recuperate in a resort or spa. Mae Sot is known more for it’s cheap NGO worker guest houses than it’s resorts. Regardless, our experience at Nakorn Maesot International Hospital was very positive. However, if faced with a more serious medical issue, we would try to get to a hospital in a more central location, not unlike moving from a hospital in Fairfield, California to Cal Pacific in San Francisco, as we did with another situation years ago.
I think we can safely say we’ve sampled the medical care here in Thailand, and, yes, even after this weekend, I still have peace of mind.
The attached Bangkok Hospital video badly needs an editor and is in Thai, but I love these sappy, tear-jerker, Thai commercials. No elephants were harmed in the making of this video.