After having just completed my 3rd trip since major back surgery in 2005 at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok Thailand, I still am in awe of the quality, efficiency, cleanliness, ethics, technology, friendliness, and professionalism of this entire organization. Even as I approach Medicare qualifications here in the states, I will crawl back to Bumrungrad for medical needs if at all possible. It is more like coming home now rather than facing a dreaded hospital visit here in the United States.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me give you some background history or for the complete story go to another blog here on this site. I know it is strange for a plant nursery web site.
Lucky enough to have one of the best (but unfortunately retired) orthopedic surgeons in Palm Beach county Florida, as a very close friend, we searched for treatment here in Florida as well as other states. The more I researched the more fear I had, not because of the operation or capability of Doctors here in the states but of the out of control Staph infection rate.
Having done frequent eco-tour trips to Thailand I suffered with severe pain during one of these trips and reluctantly went to a hospital there where I received the best care possible considering the fact that I was flying home (Florida) the next day. With no appointment, and insurance that probably would not cover the medical care in Thailand I spent almost half a day being attended to by a physician that was truly concerned about my well being and in a private room so clean I would not have hesitated to eat off the floor and also a sauna type facility. He was able to give me some relief but said it would only get me home. Walking out I fully expected the bill to be a couple of thousand dollars. To my surprise, the bill was $27 and this also included the prescriptions!
When I got back to Florida I did further research of hospitals in Thailand and Bumrungrad continually popped up. I told Dr. Jones here in West Palm Beach of my experience and said I was very impressed and thinking of having the surgery done over there since the Staph infection rate is almost nil and the cost is about 5% to 10% of what it is here in the states. Actually my deductible would have been more here than what I finally paid in Thailand. His immediate reaction was shock and that I would be making a big mistake…….after all Thailand is considered a 3rd world country and you just don’t take chances when health is concerned. However he said he would research it and get back with me. In less than an hour he called back and said “go for it”. It is one of the finest hospitals in the world.
For about 6 years prior to my surgery at Bumrungrad in Dec 2005 I suffered with spinal stenosis. If you recall 2005 was one of the most active hurricane years in history and we went through 2 eyes and was skirted with another. Anyway I would make an appointment and cancel, make an appointment and cancel, and this went on so many times I was afraid this surgeon that was emailing me from Bangkok probably thought I needed more mental care than orthopedic. Anyway by the time Hurricane Gamma was threatening our state I emailed to cancel again saying I was hurting so bad I could not stand up for more than 30 seconds without being in excruciating pain, but I was unwilling to leave my business. I told Dr. Nanthadej we had not only gone through the English alphabet but was now in the Greek alphabet. As a postscript I added that we should just use the Thai alphabet.
Well by this time we were on first name basis and when I finally did make the appointment he said he really enjoyed my humor. This was relief to me as I thought he may send me to the psychiatric ward.
We hit it off almost immediately. Although he had read my MRI from the states, he said he wanted to see me personally before ruling surgery. Well one look and he knew I was in bad shape. He asked if I would be ready for surgery day after tomorrow, and I said I’ll take it right now if possible. He also assured me that there had been no cases of Staph in the orthopedic section of the hospital since he had worked there and did not know of any in any other departments.
By that afternoon I was all through pre-op and scheduled for surgery 2 days later. This is fairly normal, not the weeks or months required here in the US.
Leaving his office I was so comfortable now knowing I had made the best decision of my life and that this surgeon was going to do his very, very best for me ……and he did. He actually may have done too good of job as almost immediately after coming out of the recovery room I was virtually pain free and felt like I could lift small buildings with a single hand!
I was in the hospital 4 days and could not have received better care. My biggest worry was meal choice. Should I have the thinly sliced tuna in red wine sauce or the lobster salad? There were many more choices prepared by 4 different chefs; even “McBumrungrad" delivery of McDonald’s hamburgers could be brought right to your room.
Simply put I was overwhelmed and felt so stupid that I had suffered so long and the ordeal was almost pleasurable. Since then I have been back for just a general physical along with several others. Again a first rate experience and left with every confidence in the world.
Unfortunately almost 6 months ago I took a hard fall stumbling over one of our 8 Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs. But that’s another story. Anyway, back pain returned but not nearly like it had been. So this time (after major hurricane season was over) I made my one and only appointment with Dr. Nanthadej and was able to keep it.
After the warmest of greetings (big hug and very unusual by Thai standards: but he did train 9 years in Chicago) we sat down to business and he ordered an MRI. He got me started immediately on some pain medication but sent me down to Dr. Chomchai, a pain management specialist, for a second opinion. With just some minor adjustments during the first week of my visit, I was back to being all but pain free. Fully expecting more surgery I was elated to hear it was quickly being ruled out.
While there, I also had my first colonoscopy and was really dreading that. I don’t know what the big deal is about this as I remember nothing and it was painless. I have an 18 minute DVD of the procedure and the skill Dr. Poungpen exhibited is nothing short of incredible.
My friend also had a hernia repair which he had let go too long for them to do lapriscopically and he spent 2 days there in the hospital. He disagreed with me about the food being so good, but I think they must have had him on a bland and different diet. He said he was not given a menu like I had experienced. Anyway he is up and running and back to work. He too was very impressed with his doctors and the whole “Bumrungrad Family”. The cost of the entire procedure was not enough to reach his deductible which would have been approximately 10 times more here in the states.
The new “International Building” in the Bumrungrad complex is finished up to the 16th floor. I think it is a 20 story building. What a beautiful and tranquil building, to now house more than 1100 doctors. It is as efficient as we found it in 2005. The quality, cleanliness and efficiency has not suffered a bit, even though over a million patients a year are going through the doors now. The doctors that I have come in contact with are all first rate. It must be a great honor for them to be working at such a prestigious facility. I would not think twice now about having the most serious of surgeries performed there if the procedure was offered. Never saw an organization from the lowest to the highest with true concern that everything they were doing was of the highest of standards and benefiting the patient.
During the 3 years since my surgery, several questions people continually ask:
Why did you go to Thailand for surgery and how did you select Bumrungrad? My overwhelming fear of hospitals here is due to the very high Staph infection rate as well as all hospital acquired infections (HIA’s). It has even worsened with the emergence of drug resistant strains but current reports say it is in regression. Because of different reporting methods it is hard to find exact percentage data but suspect it is high since 4 out of 8 people I know personally have gotten Staph complications after surgery here. Bumrungrad claims less than 00.07% for all forms of HIA’s and I believe it. The place sparkles inside and out. I even observed cleaners repelling from ropes cleaning windows high up on the outside of the building! This simply is unaffordable in the United States. Cost was secondary. I selected Bumrungrad as it continually kept popping up on search engines as number 1 and at that time, and I think still, the only JCI accredited hospital in Thailand. I found out during my initial trip that several very wealthy and famous people go there for treatment and saw first hand people that could afford the very best were coming to Bumrungrad. I was actually afraid the first time because the internet just seemed to present too good a picture. We went two days early to check it out first hand but needed only minutes to see that it was the right decision. I am sure there are other good hospitals in Thailand, and certainly less expensive by Thai standards, but I checked out only one and nixed it immediately. I will check out others on future trips should time permit.
Will my insurance cover the cost? This depends on your insurance, but more and more insurance companies in the United States are offering international coverage and it should be substantially less. You would have to check with your provider, and possibly even negotiate a new less expensive policy. My total cost has never met my high deductible. Bumrungrad or whatever hospital you are dealing with could give you an answer as to what they accept. Just remember their fee is probably less than the 20% co-pay most insurance companies require here in the states.
How long is the flight and how do you determine the amount of time to stay over there? Flight time varies from what region of the country you are but plan on about 24 hours which sounds brutal, but the longest flight which is 10 hours or slightly more allows you plenty of time to sleep and relax. Contact your doctor over there as to how long you should expect to recuperate before flying back. The airlines will usually work with medical tourists to adjust flight schedules, with a doctor’s recommendation. At present there are no direct flights that I know of from the United States to Bangkok. I actually enjoy getting out in Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong, Taipei or Seoul to stretch my legs before the final leg.
How do you select a doctor? I let the hospital suggest a doctor from the initial email. Then I checked credentials. Most have training in Europe and the United States if that means anything. From that first appointment, I became very comfortable with Dr. Nanthadej, the hospital’s initial recommendation, and could not be happier with him or specialists that he has suggested. For back problems I personally would highly recommend Dr. Nanthadej, for gastro-intestinal Dr. Poungpen, pain management Dr. Chomchai, and general medicine, Dr. Wiwat. Dr. Sunantha, my anesthesiologist for the first surgery, even came in and introduced herself and assured me she would take very good care of me. My personal thoughts are if you are not top rate, you don’t last long at Bumrungrad.
What if something goes wrong? This was another concern of mine as I was more worried about what people would say, since it is still very uncommon to go overseas for treatment. I quickly became so comfortable with my surgeon that I knew he was going to do his very, very best that it became a non issue. It is time for Americans to learn that medicine is a “practice” and lawsuits for millions of dollars hurts everyone since we all have to pay for this. Insurance, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and hospitals are certainly going to build this into their costs. At Bumrungrad, I suspect an employee from Doctors on down do not last long if a mistake happens.
This is an incredible place. Not only is it affordable to most, but many of the richest people in the world are coming here simply for some of the best health care on earth. Even though we are located half way around the world it is only a 24 hour flight to get there and we have always found flights to Bangkok from the states reasonable and not the thousands people think. People living on the West coast enjoy flights well under $1000, even for last minute tickets, and for those of us on the East Coast, are just slightly above $1000 for economy tickets. A doctor’s visit alone could run that here in the states.
Why don’t we have affordable medical access here? My theory is insurance, pharmaceuticals and lawyers are making medicine unaffordable. A doctor must carry liability policies that cost over a million dollars a year. Three receptionists that do nothing but handle paperwork for insurance claims also add to each doctors cost of doing business. Doctors have to order every test in the world to avoid mal practice claims. Give me a doctor that can practice his profession and not be bogged down with the system. I’ve found that at Bumrungrad.
Where do you stay and what can you do as a medical tourist? Bumrungrad has a connecting facility for extended stays and for family members. This time I found it to be more expensive than I cared to pay although it is worth every penny. Our US dollar does not buy what it did in 2005. There are many hotels from all price ranges, but I would select one that is close to the BTS skytrain station or subway as Bangkok traffic can be horrific. We have stayed Ambassador, Zennith, Choapaya Park and Immfusion but there are hundreds to select from. Just check the internet. I would stay a few days at the Bumrungrad Hospitality Suites after any major surgery, simply because it is immaculately clean and is connected to the hospital.
As for tourism, there are many things to do in Thailand. If capable, and with doctors approval, some of my favorites are The Grand Palace, ( a must) Chatuchak weekend market and surrounding area, The Aquarium at the Siam Paragon, and Chit Loam area. Further away Nong Nooch Gardens in Pattaya is the Disney World of botanical gardens. Phuket further south for the beach, and Chaing Mai, Chaing Rai further north requires flights. I have been to Thailand more than 20 times and never run out of things to do.
I can not imagine Americans never meeting their surgeons and going into the operating room with a magic marker written on them, “Operate Here”. This is never going to happen at Bumrungrad.
I don’t mind receiving email at [email protected] if anyone has other questions. Check out this AARP video https://vimeo.com/106496720
This article was written Nov 25, 2009
Tropical World Nursery
1162 Hyde Park Rd
Loxahatchee, Florida USA 33470