A leading Thai medi-care conglomerate is Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS ). Started in 1969, its hospital network has grown to encompass Bangkok Hospital, Samitivej Hospital. BNH Hospital. Phyathai Hospital, Paolo Hospital and the Royal Hospital. Subsidiary companies include Bangkok Helicopter Services (for medical evacuations). This offers broad reach for prospective patients seeking diagnosis, annual body check-ups, pharmaceuticals, or complex or simple procedures at competitive rates. The group offers comprehensive service for visiting patients from planning and pre-admission formalities and finding the right accommodation, tp providing interpreters and language translation facilities, and in-hospital minimarts and restaurants.
Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International (www. bumrungrad. com ) hospital has won international acclaim and is Thailand’s best-known facility for health tourism. It was the first genuinely international hospital in Asia to be accredited by the US-based Joint Commission International (JCI, an organisation aiming to elevate healthcare delivery standards through evaluation and accreditation of healthcare organisations), in 2002.
Bumrungrad Bangkok: plush lobby surrounds
The hospital, which began expansion in 1997 with a US$100 million investment in the building, design and medical hardware, including a 21-storey outpatient facility, complete with a spacious 10th floor Sky Lobby, was forced to look aggressively overseas after the 1997 Asian financial crisis dried up local business. This proved fortuitous for travellers.
Over a million patients are treated annually, with just over half a million of those being international patients from over 190 different countries, according to hospital statistics for 2013. Procedures included everything from comprehensive checkups and cardiac surgery to cancer treatment and cosmetic enhancements. Patients hail from all over – from the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam to Australia and the United States.
In 2014, the cost of the entire package for a Coronary Artery By-pass Graft Cardiac Surgery at Bumrungdrad Hospital was priced at around US$18,440 – the average cost of the entire procedure in the US is about US$44,800.
According to a Bumrungrad spokesman, the hospital delivers a "Mercedes product at a Toyota price”. Indeed it is more hotel than hospital on first looks. Find a comfortable lobby, restaurants, coffee and more. Three things that Bumrungrad takes prides in are: high quality, international-standard medical services, immediate access to those services and specialists, and affordable prices. (Bladder surgery that would cost US$25,000 in the USA, costs only around US$3,000 at Bumrungrad, for example). The hotel is focused on the "intentional medical traveller, not the accidental traveller" who might walk in with a muscle sprain.
These people can come in, undergo complicated procedures and "still have their savings intact". A big plus on the hospital’s website is its "real-time" average cost data that offers a rule-of-thumb on actual average cost for specific procedures over a period.
Chest issues are among Bangkok Hospital’s specialties/ photo: hospital
The hospital says it is a one-stop medical centre where patients have access to over a thousand internationally trained medical specialists under one roof. Patients arriving for treatment might well be guests checking in at a five-star hotel: there are concierge-style services on tap and an electronic medical-records system that eliminates paper and waiting. This “total experience” is what attracts clients. New “medical tourism packages” are being developed and sold by travel agents, and the hospital also has a kiosk inside Bangkok’s international airport.
Another Bangkok institution providing international services and help to streamline the arrival and accommodation of overseas patients and their families is the Bangkok Hospital (www. bangkokhospital. com ), which says a “considerable portion” of its patients are foreigners. The hospital has an International Medical Center (IMC) catering specially for overseas patients (it has treated patients from more than 100 nationalities) and includes a team of multi-lingual interpreters to help overseas visitors. There’s also a special Japanese Medical Centre with Japanese-speaking doctors and nurses. Another advantage is that the hospital runs its network of private hospitals in 17 locations across Thailand – with Phuket and Samui being the obvious choices for those looking for a spot on the beach after treatment.
To some tourists, the beach-laden Phuket has another attraction: sex-change surgery. In fact, this is one of the top 10 procedures that patients visit Thailand for. The Bangkok Phuket Hospital (www. phukethospital. com ) offers “sexual reassignment surgery”, as well as extensive health-check facilities (it has the equipment to perform full-body CT scans and 4D ultrasounds). Some years ago, the hospital set up a subsidiary travel agency, Phuket Health & Travel (www. phuket-health-travel. com ), offering packages for plastic surgery procedures, dialysis treatment, hip or knee replacements, annual checkups and other procedures.
BNH Hospital, Bangkok/ photo: hospital
Also in Bangkok, the BNH Hospital (www. BNHhospital. com ), originally opened to offer healthcare to expats living in Thailand, offers a range of medical services, from orthopaedic surgery and ophthalmology to paediatrics and dentistry. Various check-up programmes are on offer for set package prices. It’s one of Thailand’s oldest medical care centres and sees over 75,000 patients visiting from over 150 different countries, annually. The hospital’s International Travel Medicine Clinic provides full medical travel services and immunisations – and what the hospital says is the “first comprehensive spine centre in Thailand”. Be warned though that prices, though not usurious, are climbing slowly. A Regent Suite accommodation at BNH will set you back around Bt4,500 per day, going up to just over Bt9,000 inclusive of European food and nursing care.