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Medical Vacation in Thailand - Page 3

A Series of Article by Joe Tapp
Medical Services Outside of the US  | Medical Vacations Overseas  | Annual Physical

For the last few years I noticed that a cataract was forming on my right eye. Two doctors said to get it taken care of when it began to interfere with my life style. Recently I looked into where to get it done and the cost. If you have any doubts about the US medical system being out of control, consider this. As I do not have insurance, like 40% of all Americans, to get the cataract taken care of would cost at least $10000.† That is a minimum figure as no one would give me a absolute price.

Hearing about Thailand, and having been stationed there during the Vietnam War, I decided to look into what they had to offer. What I found out was amazing. I was able to exchange email with hospitals and doctors easily. Try that in the US! They gave me set prices for all procedures. That includes all fees and medications. They made recommendations to save money, as well!

There were five things that had to be looked into before I committed to going overseas.

  1. Is the transportation in place to facilitate getting the work done?
  2. Is there communication, both with the Thais and back home, good enough that I would not be left in the lurch?
  3. Were the facilities and doctors up to my standards?
  4. What would it be like to stay in Thailand for three weeks?
  5. What would the cost be?

Transportation is not a problem.

There are several airlines that go to Thailand on a daily basis. The costs, including airport fees and taxes, start at about $1000 per person round trip. We went on a Boeing 777 with Malaysian Airlines. The service and food was good. We found the tourist (economy) class seats very comfortable. Each seat had extra pillows and blankets, a monitor with a lot of movies, TV and flight progress data.

†The flights were on time. The trip takes 22-24 flight hours, so plan on two days each way. When we went trough Kuala Lumpour, on the way back, we had an eight hours layover. The airport there has a small, clean hotel, on the airport, sort of like a small Holiday Inn. You do have to go through customs and the cost is about $20 US for a six hour stay.

You can go through a travel agent or do it yourself, as we did. The internet is a wonderful thing! I have to admit that I have friends living in Thailand and they helped us select from many options re hotels, restaurants, places to visit and other, similar, issues

Getting around Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, is economical and easy. Language problems that arose were solved by Thais, whom we did not know, offering to help out. Many signs and all menus are in both Thai and English. Even the street vendors, and there thousands of them, have high quality, good tasting offerings.

When you first arrive in Bangkok take a cab from the airport to your hotel. It will cost about 900 Baht (B). That is $25 at todayís exchange rate of 36B to the dollar. You could opt to take a van for 200B ($5.55). The cab is a lot more comfortable and faster.

When in Bangkok, use the metered cabs until you are comfortable getting around. You can pretty much go clear across Bangkok for $5. The next step is to get used to the overhead rail and the subway. They are both very clean, cheap, quiet and fast. Then try getting on the local buses. You will get to see a lot of details and select places to go back to. Lastly, try to Tut-Tuts and motorcycles. The Tut-Tuts are three wheel vehicles and you negotiate the price. The motorcycles are identified by having drivers that wear orange shirts. Harley dudes beware! I guarantee that you will have the ride of your life on one of them!

For more remote places you can take vans (either private or group), trains or air conditioned buses. We preferred the private vans with drivers. They pick you up and sort of act a guide as you travel about. We went from Bangkok to Hua Hin, a seaside resort where the king vacations, for about $55 each way. It was a 2-3 hour trip.

2.     Communication, while occasionally awkward, was never really a problem. There was always someone nearby to help out, often a complete stranger. We found it helpful to use the internet to get a list of common Thai phrases. It was never a problem finding a bathroom. We both found it funny that one way to identify Americans was to see them with their water bottles. Every block has at least one street vendor selling bottled water and sodas. There is no need for water bottles.

There are many malls in Bangkok. They are often more modern than malls in the US. In fact, they are spectacular. We found many McDonalds, Burger King and KFCs (their sandwiches are pork and chicken only), Baskin Robbins and the like. One of the best resources there are the 7-11 stores. They are a cheap source for products just like what you buy in the states. They are everywhere.

You can buy a used cell phone and phone cards for about $20. That is what the ex-pats do. We simply used the hotel phones as they were very inexpensive and we did not need a cell phone as all our drivers had one. Being Americans, we borrowed them as needed and then increased the tip.

There are many internet cafes. The hotelís internet cafes are expensive but there is always a cafť within a block or two. They typically charge 50 cents per half hour. Our favorite was one that was also a laundry and tailor. They kept feeding us Thai food for free as well. By the way, Thai food is very, very good.

3.     We personally inspected four other hospitals besides the one we used.. All were very modern, spacious and squeaky clean. The US hospitals we are familiar with pale in comparison. We felt like we were in a large mall at each of them. Each had greeters at a kiosk in the lobby. They spoke English and tried very hard to point us in the right direction to the appropriate department.

The equipment was as good or superior to what we see in the US. There was no hospital odor. Each department desk was staffed by two or three nurses. Each desk had a sign that read:


They meant it too. We never waited more than 10 minutes for anything.

One thing I found interesting was that for my Barium enema, used in conjunction with examining my colon, they used Cod Liver Oil as the main laxative. I do not know what the US uses, but I assume it is expensive and can not possibly be more effective than Cod Liver Oil. By the way, they took about 20 2 foot by 2 foot x-rays just for my colon. Then they took some more, at no additional cost, because my colon appears to be bigger than the average Thaiís.

The Doctors we saw were all very competent and took the time to answer all our questions. They were of various nationalities. None of them appeared to be in a rush. Our needs and concerns came first.

4.     We were in Thailand for three weeks. Two weeks were doing the hospital thing and one week was at the beach at Hua Hin. With the exception of my cataract operations, the hospital thing consisted of about 2 hours each morning doing one test or another, getting teeth taken care of, looking for eyeglasses and so on. We found Bangkok to be very modern yet still exotic. They do things the Thai way and it appears to be a very good way to do things.

There are many very modern malls in Bangkok. They can supply anything you desire. Here are 1000ís of street vendors that can do the same thing. You can bargain for everything but food and metered cabs.

Each afternoon we visited a different destination. The highlight had to be the Grand Palace. If you go to Bangkok, leave it for last as everything pales in comparison. The river trip in a long tail boat took us back to another time and era, as there are still people living on the rivers and clongs (canals). There are many Temples to see. We often just took a bus and followed the route, stopping when we saw something of interest.

For our mini vacation we elected to go to Hua Hin. The summer home of the King is located there. It is on the Gulf of Siam and has pretty much all the amenities that Bangkok has.† The beach alone is worth the visit. Staying at a resort on the beach cost less than $100 per day.

There are many other vacation destinations in Thailand. There is Pattya Beach, Chaing Mai, †and the islands down south as examples. If you are into golf, try Doug Hood. He is a USPGA Master Teaching Professional located in Bangkok. He can set you up with some pretty neat solutions for your fixation. His website is WWW.DOUGHOODGOLFSCHOOL.COM

5.     So now we get to the part you really want to hear about. How much will the cost?

We approached the trip from two angles.

1.     First was what would just one cataract operation cost if done the Thailand vs what it would cost in the US?

2.     Second was what would we get if we spent the same amount of money in Thailand that the operation would cost in the US?

If you have any doubts that the medical system is really out of control what follows should get you fuming. The costs are based on verbal quotes given at two hospitals and several doctors here in the US, as well as actual costs quoted in writing (backed up by receipts) for work done in Thailand.

†The quotes from the US are MINIMUMS as not one hospital would give me a written quote and they implied there would always be additional costs. This was a result of the fragmentation (read outsourcing and insurance) of the medical industry. The quotes from Thailand were given to me via email, in writing, and were always, with one exception, more than the actual cost wound up being. The exception was that the platinum physicals were as quoted. All Thai quotes include everything- doctor fee, hospital fee, medicines, lab work. †I was actually communicating with the Doctor that would perform the surgery via email. Try that in the US.

To get one eye cataract operated on in the US would cost at least $10000, as we do not have insurance. We looked into insurance and found that itís cost, for the two of us, aged 60 or so, would be approximately $950 per month and have a $2500 deductible.† That is $11400 + $2500 per operation to the family limit. A lower deductible would have required a monthly bill of $2000 or so.

The conclusion we came up with is that the medical industry wants every family in the US to pay $12000 per year for adequate insurance and then shell out another $2500 if something actually goes wrong and they actually have to use it. Even if this is paid by your company, would it not be better to have the money in your pocket? In Thailand, we were told, the bottom 25% of wage earners get the same care we did, at the same hospitals, for $39 per year. We were told that every doctor spends Ĺ day per week with the poor.

To get one eye done in Thailand costs $1500 plus $1000 airfare and† $980 for food and lodging plus $1000 miscellaneous costs.† That is $5000. That is a 50% saving. This is for just me, staying two weeks.

Next we looked at how much we could do if we both went and spent the $10000 one eye would cost in the US. This is still less than insurance would cost, by the way.

We elected to use Bangkok Nursing Home Hospital. Several other hospitals were just as good.

Right and left cataractoperation $2800
Platinum exam for both of us For details see the† WWW.BNH.COM The exam are tailored for men or women, consists of 15 items and Doctor visits as well as one meal. The lab work consists of 15 tests. $667
In depth discussion with Doctors re two issues found $16
Thyroid pills for my wife (one year supply) $36
Dental work to include 10 small cavities, fix cracked tooth and missing filling $433
Laser teeth whitening for my wife $333
Eye Glasses2 pair prescription 3 pair reading $586
TOTAL $4871

Airfare $2000
Hotel(17 nights) $952
Food (mostly dinner for 2 as a breakfast was always included in the hotel bill). 15 dinners for two. $200
Miscellaneous Taxi, Bus, tourist fees, gifts $650




We could not spend as much money as one cataract would

cost to fix in the US. My wife felt obligated to spend as much so she bought two gold rings, one with a black pearl and one with pink jade to bring us up to parity. They are beautiful rings. We still could not spend it all!

There are many places to go in the world to get quality health care. They will not replace emergency medical needs here in the US. But less than 4% of all Americans have major medical needs requiring 4 days or more hospital stays before they are 65. And half of them seem to be car or work related accidents. We should be able to get catastrophic medical insurance but there does not appear to be such a thing at the present time. This is a pretty good indicator that the insurance industry does not feel there is enough of a need or risk to warrant such a policy.

We used the internet to locate all the places we went to and to get pricing. It was easy. We only dealt with places that emailed us back.

It worked out well for us.

If you want more data that we have collected on specific locations, hospitals, hotels, or airlines you can reach me at joetapp@comcast.net

If you have done something similar, in any country, †and have receipts to back up your claims, †please email me as we want to set up a web site to get the message across that we donít have to sit still to get hosed by our medical establishment.


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