Wednesday 7 April 2010

Medical Tourism -- Open Wide and Say Aah!

'Many hospitals in Thailand have upgraded services and qualifications to equal any first world service,' says Dr Zadok Lempert, CEO of Medico Management and Travel Services. Well, I completely disagree, Dr Lempert -- the few hospitals I've seen in Thailand absolutely wipe the floor of the Australian ones I've visited.

And there's your first clue. Hospitals in Thailand actually smell like hospitals. Remember in the old days, you'd walk into a hospital and the whole place would smell like disinfectant? Then somewhere along the line, they couldn't afford to pay people to wipe down the floors any more, so Australian hospitals became giant experimental laboratories where world-class Superbugs were bred. I believe if you go to the Royal Easter Show there's even a category for Best Superbug on Show, the winner proudly parading around with a shiny sash over his white lab coat. Jing jing!

So that dischenchantment -- which is also been experienced in other 'leading world-class countries' like the USA -- has given rise to Medical Tourism. Wherein people say, Sod this, I can go to Thailand, stay in a hospital that looks and feels like a hotel, get treated by doctors that invariably trained in Australia, the US or the UK, pay a fraction of the fee that I would at home, then recover fully at a 'destination spa' in Phuket or Samui for a week or so. Much cheaper than I can go to the hospital down the road and contract Golden Staph.

Dr Lempert puts Thailand's costs at around 60 to 70% less than most international countries. 'So even getting a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th opinion is very affordable.'

Deloitte Research showed that 10 million Americans were 'medical tourists' last year. 'Medical tourism is becoming a business,' says Dr Lempert. 'From 500,000 patients 10 years ago, we have now 1.5 million people seeking treatments. That's almost 10% of arrivals in Thailand, and it is growing.' Many of these suffer allergies, respiratory problems, dental and ocular problems. Many no doubt get their boobs and bits done.

He points to world-class JCI certification of around 8 hospitals currently, top-of-the-line technology, and immediate admissions as part of the attraction. That's right, you can just waltz (presuming you're not there for a hip replacement) into any hospital here and present yourself to a specialist, without going through all that costly and timely referral nonsense. Within a few hours, he's seen you, diagnosed you, and you know where you stand. Or lie.

And if you're not convinced yet, let me just say that no one has really touched on the best reason to be in a Thai hospital: Thai nurses. If you want a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) opinion, just ask Dr Lampert ... I'm sure we agree on that.

Footnote: an excellent book on this is Patients Beyond Borders: Everybody's Guide to Affordable World Class Medical Tourism. Think of it as the Lonely Planet guide for hospitals in Thailand.

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