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We’re all going on a medical holiday


We’re all going on a medical holiday

Foreign travel is a way to recuperate from our workaday lives, but now it’s also a way to heal.

The level of medical and dental treatment in Japan is uneven at best. While there are some world-class doctors and dentists here, there are some physicians who probably shouldn’t be practicing at all. This is because Japan lacks many of the safeguards that exist in other first-world countries to keep incompetent physicians out of the system. First and foremost among these is the difficulty of suing doctors or hospitals for mal-practice, due to the nature of the country’s court system.

In addition to this, many foreign residents of Japan are reluctant to seek medical care because of language issues: their Japanese skills may be lacking and not all doctors and few nurses in Japan speak enough English to explain what’s going on. Other foreign residents are put off by the depressing conditions at many hospitals in Japan, which often resemble Soviet-era asylums. Finally, there is the issue of cost: for those not enrolled in one of Japan’s health insurance schemes, it can be expensive to receive medical treatment in Japan.

One solution that many foreign residents of Japan have found is to seek medical care abroad, particularly in Thailand, which has become the world center of ‘medical tourism’. Thailand is a natural destination for this: costs are low, the level of care is generally very high, most doctors speak good English, and just a few hours from the city there are dozens of beautiful tropical islands to chill out on after receiving care. Many foreign residents of Japan have been going to Thailand for years, stopping off en-route to the islands for a regular physical or tooth cleaning.

I’ve had a lot of experience with hospitals in Bangkok: I’ve received check-ups and minor treatment at several of them, my daughter was born at one of them, and both of my children have received pediatric care in Bangkok. In addition, I’ve been researching hospitals and doctors in Bangkok for several years in order to write an online guide-
book to medical care in the Asia-Pacific region (see URL at end). Presented here is my introduction to the best foreigner-friendly medical and dental institutions in Bangkok.

Bumrungrad International Hospital
Bumrungrad is one of the world’s most popular inter-national hospitals and it’s especially popular with patients from the Gulf States. Centrally located in Bangkok, a 10-minute walk from the Nana BTS (Skytrain) Station, Bumrungrad has undergone several upgrades in recent years.

The international patient registration area now feels like the reception area of a plush five-star hotel. This is intentional: the management of Bumrungrad employs a hospitality/service ethic at the hospital.

After registering with one of the English-speaking attendants, you’ll be directed to a specialty center, where you’ll wait to see a doctor (waits average about 30 minutes and can be minimized by making an appointment in advance). Most of the doctors at Bumrungrad have done all or part of their medical study abroad, often in the United States
or Australia, and they all speak good-to-fluent English. Their level of competence is usually quite high. Likewise, most nurses can speak enough English to make themselves understood.

Of course, all of this luxury comes at a price, and Bumrungrad is nowhere near as cheap as it used to be. While medical care here doesn’t cost anything similar
to care in places like the United States, it’s not that much cheaper than Japan. For this reason, if your main reason for seeking care in Thailand is saving money, you should consider a hospital like Saint Louis Hospital (see later in this article).

Samitivej Hospital
Samitivej Hospital is the hospital of choice for Bangkok’s huge Japanese population and all the signage at the hospital is in Thai, Japanese and English. There is even a dedicated Japanese registration area. Note that Samitivej (pronounced “sammy-t-way”) has two branches in Bangkok; the one I’m talking about is on Sukhumvit Soi 49, in the heart of the Japanese ‘ghetto’ (actually, one of the swankest areas in town). It’s a 10-minute taxi ride from Phrom Phong or Thong Lo BTS stations.

The hospital is also popular with western ex-pats in the city, who prefer it over Bumrungrad due to its smaller, more intimate scale. Like Bumrungrad, Samitivej is informed by hospitality/service industry practices and the place is bright, comfortable and pleasant, with several on-site restaurants and coffee shops.

Because it’s smaller than Bumrungrad, service and treatment here tends to be faster and more personal. The obstetrics department is particularly well regarded and many ex-pats in Asia come here to deliver children. My wife delivered our daughter here and we were very impressed with all aspects of the process.

The doctors here tend to speak good English and have overseas medical training. Prices here are on the high side, but most find it to be somewhat cheaper than Bumrungrad.

Saint Louis Hospital
Saint Louis Hospital, a five-minute walk from BTS Surasak Station, is a great choice for those who want excellent medical care at rock-bottom prices. This private Catholic Hospital doesn’t have any of the resort/hotel pretensions ofBumru- ngrad or Samitivej, but it’s perfectly clean and comfortable and the doctors are excellent.

While most of the patients here are middle-class Thais, they welcome foreigners here and there is always an English speaker at the registration desk. The doctors here, many of whom have studied abroad, all speak English, but you may find that the nurses and other staff have limited English.

Depending upon what sort of treatment you need, Saint Louis can be extremely efficient and costs are about a quarter of what they would be at Bumrungrad or Samitivej. I once had a suspected broken toe x-rayed and diagnosed here for a mere 700 baht (¥1,800) and the elapsed time from entering the hospital to leaving was 40 minutes. Considering the fact that this would have cost about ¥80,000 (US$1,000) and taken several hours back home in the States, this struck me as miraculous. Unlike Bumrungrad and Samitivej, it’s pretty pointless to call or email Saint Louis in advance — they’re not trying to be a medical tourism destination and they don’t have dedicated staff to handle English-language phone calls and emails.

Dental Hospital
This prosaically named dental clinic is a very pleasant place to receive dental care. A short walk from Samitivej Hospital on Sukhumvit Soi 49, this bright, airy building is surrounded by a lush tropical garden and there’s even a coffee shop in the atrium where you can sip a cappuccino while waiting for your appointment. The dentists here speak good English and all seem to have studied abroad. While there’s no avoiding the dreaded hook and suction tube in the mouth, they are good at minimizing your suffering. In addition to basic cleaning, they offer the full range of dental services like fillings, caps, crowns and root canals.

In closing
There are a few things to keep in mind when receiving medical care abroad. First, for anything major, educate yourself online before seeking care and always seek a second or even third opinion before committing to a physician and a treatment. Also, be sure to ask what things will cost up front. Both Bumrungrad and Samitivej occasionally charge more than advertised for certain treatments, so make sure you clarify total costs before receiving treatment.

Bumrungrad International Hospital
• 33 Sukhumvit 3 (Soi Nana Nua), Wattana, Bangkok
• Call: +662-667-1000

Samitivej Hospital
• 133 Sukhumvit 49, Klongtan Nua, Vadhana, Bangkok
• Call: +662-711-8181

Saint Louis Hospital
• 27 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok
• Call: +662-210-9999

Dental Hospital
• 88/88 Sukhumvit 49, Sukhumvit Road, Wattana, Bangkok
• Call: +662-260-5000

For more information, visit the online guidebook to medical care in the Asia-Pacific region:

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