Guest blogger John Borthwick recently inspected several major Bangkok hospitals specialising in “medical tourism” and spoke to post-op clients.
“You might call us the Sisterhood of the Travelling Boobs,” jokes Jacky*, 40, from Perth. She is one ten women I meet recuperating in an upmarket Bangkok hotel who have undergone elective medical or dental procedures in Thailand rather than at home in Australia.
They talk frankly about their procedures, ranging from breast augmentations, lifts or reductions, to chin lifts, rhinoplasty, arm lifts and liposuction. Several have also had dental crowns, implants and fillings done.
They are among the 1.2 million “medical tourists” who annually travel to Thailand for treatments, making it the world’s top destination for medical travel.
Janelle, 31, who thoroughly researched her treatment options and costs before choosing Thailand, enthuses, “I don’t have words enough to say how happy I am with my surgeon.” The cost for her breast implant replacements done during a three-night stay in a top Bangkok hospital, plus a week’s five-star hotel accommodation and round-trip airfare from Australia, came to A$7400**.
Major private hospitals in Bangkok with international accreditation, such as Bumrungrad International, Piyavate and Bangkok Hospital, offer to both Thai and foreign patients a wide spectrum of medical services. Their prices are on average at least 60 percent below those in Western countries, and waiting times are minimal.
Bumrungrad Hospital, with 520 beds, has 900 full-time doctors (many with international qualifications) and cares for some 1.1 million patients a year, including 9000 Australian patients last year, 800 of whom were admissions. As a price indicator, a hip or knee replacement, for instance, costs around A$13,000 at Bumrungrad, one of Thailand’s more expensive hospitals.
The quality of overseas medical care, and redress in the case of problems, is a concern raised by clients and professional bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Dental Association. “There are inherent risks associated with all types of surgery, no matter where they are performed,” states the website of Medi Makeovers, an Australian agency that exclusively services medical travel to Thailand.
Some travel agents promote their medical or dental packages along the lines of “Have a tropical holiday, with your surgery on the cheap.” Successful medical travel is almost the opposite of that: your procedure usually involves hospitalisation and surgery under a general anaesthetic, followed by significant after-care and recovery time. The least relevant aspect of this medical event is that it happens in a tropical tourist destination. In fact, too-soon visits to the beach, bar and shopping mall often compromise a patient’s healing and recovery.
In 2002 Thailand was the first country in Asia to achieve Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation, certifying that a hospital meets the same rigorous standards of quality and safety as required in the United States of America. Some 39 Thai hospitals now have JCI accreditation.
The old phrase, caveat emptor — buyer beware — should be kept in mind when considering overseas medical treatment, along with doing comparison research and seeking recommendations from past patients. Jacky researched websites such as RealSelf, Patients Beyond Borders and dedicated Facebook forums before making her decision. “I avoided those agents who seemed keen to over-service,” she adds with a note of caution.
Finally, a few tips: Australia’s Medicare does not cover overseas medical treatment. Consider only JCI accredited hospitals. Think of this as “medical travel” not “medical tourism.” Do your research before booking — talk to past patients for advice or a referral. Discuss the options with your own doctor or dentist. Prefer a package that covers airfares, all medical aspects and quality accommodation. Don’t under-estimate your recuperation time. Use an experienced, Australia-based agent who specialises in your area of health concern.
*For reasons of confidentiality, patient names have been changed. **Prices will have changed with the recent fall in the Australian dollar.