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Thailand Medical Tourism: Safety, Costs, and Tips

Medical tourism refers to leaving the country to have a medical procedure. (Learn More) It is growing in popularity, (Learn More) in part due to a CNN documentary. (Learn More)

Medical tourists to Thailand should only consider hospitals that are certified before scheduling a trip. (Learn More)

Savings associated with getting surgery done in Thailand can be significant. (Learn More) Sometimes, people paint too rosy a picture of the situation. (Learn More)

Make sure you prepare yourself before scheduling surgery in Thailand. (Learn More) Never have any kind of organ transplant surgery abroad. (Learn more)

Make an informed decision before you have surgery in Thailand. Any mistakes or complications can alter the course of your life. (Learn More)

What Is Medical Tourism?

medical tourism

The term medical tourism simply refers to having surgery abroad. This means that you intentionally go to another country for the purpose of receiving health care or surgery. It does not apply to emergency surgery or health care outside the United States while you are vacationing or visiting.

Estimates from different websites suggest that 750,000 or more Americans seek health care services outside the United States annually. Many of these people have surgical procedures.

Growing Popularity

Although the Affordable Care Act resulted in millions of Americans receiving health care coverage they did not previously have, the law did not significantly lower the price of medical procedures in the United States.

It is well known that the cost of surgery and other medical procedures in the United States is extremely high. Even with insurance, many Americans find it difficult to afford copays, deductibles, and coinsurance amounts.

The primary incentive for the medical tourism industry is to receive medical services at a reduced cost.

The 2015 CNN Documentary

Perhaps one of the events that helped to spur the popularity of medical tourism in the United States is a documentary from CNN in 2015 that covered a medical tourism journey to the Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. The subject received an MRI screen, medical tests, and a colonoscopy for the equivalent of about $3,000 U.S. dollars.

The estimated cost for this group of medical procedures in the United States at the time would have been right around $14,000.

airplane flying

Some Hospitals in Thailand Used by Medical Tourists

Thailand is a popular Asian country for tourism and medical tourism.

The number of hospitals that are accredited as Joint Commission International Hospitals in Thailand appears to be increasing. This type of accreditation offers some confidence regarding the quality of services that medical tourists in the country will get.

The following hospitals in the country appear to be frequented by medical tourists:

  • Bangkok Hospital
  • Samitivej Hospital
  • BNH Hospital
  • Phyathai Hospital
  • Paolo Hospital
  • The Royal Hospital

Perceived Advantages of Having Medical Procedures Performed in Thailand

Medical tourism is appealing for some people for several reasons.

  • Obviously, the cost of surgery is considerably lower in Thailand than it is in the United States, even for people with adequate insurance coverage. This is because the costs of labor, malpractice insurance, and so forth are significantly lower abroad.
  • Some insurance companies are promoting medical tourism due to the decreased cost. Check with your insurance provider to see if you have incentives for having procedures performed overseas.
  • Many of the facilities offer spa-like luxurious accommodations in addition to a significant cut in the overall cost.
  • There is always the incentive of going abroad and sightseeing along with getting a procedure done.
  • Overall, the quality of medical care in these facilities is often equivalent to medical care in the United States. There is a caveat to this, explained below.

How Much Money Will I Save?

It is impossible to predict how much you will actually save. Overall comparisons of the cost of specific procedures in the United States and other countries in 2019 can be found here.

It Sounds Too Good to Be True

scratching head

If you are thinking that it sounds too good to be true, you are absolutely right. There are some potential downsides.

  • You run the risk of getting poor quality surgery or treatment. Just like there are mediocre surgeons in the United States, there are also poor-quality medical services abroad.
  • Nursing staff and other staff members might not be as well trained or courteous as they are at home.
  • The facility may not be up to your personal standards.
  • You may have issues with cultural barriers, language barriers, the type of food you can get, and other issues you did not account for when you made your arrangements.
  • There can be significant dangers returning home after surgery that can complicate your recovery. For instance, it is not always recommended to fly long distances after certain types of surgical procedures.
  • Follow-up care at home may not sync with the type of treatment and services that you got abroad.

Some Precautions You Might Want to Take

There are some general precautions to consider before you book your flight to Thailand to get surgery.

  • Make sure your physician is trained in the specific area that is appropriate for your needs.
  • Always know your physician’s credentials, including where they attended school, where they were trained as a resident, and what board certifications they have.
  • Never rely on testimonials. These can be fabricated or nonapplicable to your situation. Make sure you get objective information from reliable sources.
  • Make sure that the facility is a hospital with ICU-level care on site or near a major hospital where you can transfer quickly in case of emergency.
  • Have a written agreement with the facility or group arranging the trip that defines everything, including care, treatment, and supplies that will be provided to you.
  • If you do not speak the language, have arrangements to make communication easier for you.
  • Have copies of all your medical records with you when you go.
  • Get copies of all your records from the facility when you leave.
  • Only consider facilities that have international accreditation, such as Joint Commission International Accreditation, the certifying body for hospitals in the United States.
  • Always discuss the situation with your insurance provider before making a final decision.
  • Arrange for your follow-up care prior to scheduling and leaving for your surgery abroad.

For more help or information, check out the Medical Tourism Association.

Organ Transplant Medical Tourism

There are serious issues that can affect your health, safety, and overall quality of life if you receive an organ transplant abroad. Avoid having organ transplants abroad despite any recommendations or testimonials.

One Final Note

A medical procedure, even a minor one, that goes wrong can alter the course of your entire life. There is no substitute for having a medical team that knows you and understands your needs.

Although having a medical procedure performed in Thailand may save you a significant amount of money, it might not be worth the cost savings.

If you do decide to go this route, familiarize yourself with the procedures, customs, and other situations you may run into in Thailand. Take all necessary precautions to ensure things run as smoothly as possible.

Disclaimer

This article is designed to provide information regarding medical tourism in Thailand. It does not endorse any facilities, services, or procedures performed in the United States or abroad.

Before making any decision regarding any medical procedure, discuss the situation with your physician, family, and insurance provider to get the best potential care.

References

What Is Medical Tourism? (2019). News-medical.net

Get a Colonoscopy on Your Exotic Vacation. (January 2015). CNN.

Facts About the Joint Commission International. (December 2018). Joint Commission International.

Compare Prices. (2019). Medicaltourism.com.

Medical Tourism. (December 2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical Tourism FAQ’s. (2019). Medical Tourism Association.

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