How is healthcare in Thailand?
Sometimes people ask me what happens if they have to go to a doctor or dentist in Thailand.
They should really ask this question to the tens of thousands of people who fly to Thailand from all over the world every year to get excellent medical treatment for much lower prices than in their home country.
Why do Americans look for healthcare abroad?
I just happened to see an article on Yahoo news with the title: “Why Are Patients Racing Out of America for Healthcare?”
The article provides some very convincing arguments.
For example an MRI scan which costs $2800 in the US can be had for $118 in Argentina.
Or a visit to the emergency room which can costs hundreds of dollars in the US, can be had in Panama for $2, according to the article.
A friend of mine had to visit a doctor in France, and her bill was zero – as in nothing! The last time I went to a dentist in Thailand for a checkup, my bill was also zero!
When I asked the dentist about it, he said that he never charges for checkups. He was astonished why I would even assume that a checkup would cost something.
If you have never heard of medical tourism, here is a quote from CNN: “The medical tourism industry accounted for 9 percent of the global G.D.P., a number that is expected to grow as health care costs in the U.S. continue to skyrocket.”
I don’t know how accurate this number is, but at the very least it gives us an indication that medical tourism is a huge industry. Global medical tourism is worth well over 100 billion dollars a year.
The US health care system is burdened with sky-high costs and often impersonal treatment combined with reams of paperwork that you have to fill out, and constant bickering with insurance companies.
This drives tens of thousands of Americans to look for medical care in other countries where you can get excellent treatment for a fraction of the price.
Dental work in Thailand
If you go to a modern, reputable dental clinic, you will find all the latest equipment and high standards which you would expect in your western home country.
Unlike in the US, the dentist works only on you. He does not move from one chair to the other to squeeze in the maximum number of patients in the shortest time possible. The Thai dentist often chats with you, tells you about his life, his family, his story.
He doesn’t try to sell me a membership to an office savings plan, and he doesn’t insist on weighing me, measuring my height and taking my blood pressure. He doesn’t require me to fill out stacks of paperwork either.
It’s all a lot easier, more personal and less intimidating. If the dentist takes X-rays and I want to take them with me, that’s no problem either.
The best part, of course, is the bill. It can be anywhere from a quarter to at most half of what you would pay in the US.
Dental work in other countries
Some time ago, I used to live in Mexico. I had lots of dental work done there as well, and my dentist invited me to dinner with her family.
I got to listen to her life’s story while I was in the chair, and it was all much more fun than I ever had in the office of an American dentist.
Oh, by the way, those crowns from the Mexican dentist from 17 years ago, they are still in my mouth. And my latest crown from Thailand came with a 7 year free replacement guarantee if it doesn’t hold up.
My last experience with a US health clinic
I remember my last visit to an emergency room in the US to get a sprained ankle X-rayed, many years ago.
It took several hours, I had to fill out tons of forms, had to report at three offices, had to see two doctors and pay for a third one whom I never saw but who supposedly checked my X-rays after I had already left.
Then I was totally overbilled and had to spend half an hour arguing with the office clerk until she realized that mistakenly my bill included charges from another patient. Even after this was taken off, it still cost me several hundred dollars.
Then a couple of weeks later I got another bill in the mail with charges I did not recognize and I had to spend an hour on the phone with the hospital who tried to explain to me why I had to pay for a doctor whom I had not seen in the hospital and who did work which I had not requested.
My personal experience with a Thai clinic
In contrast, I went to the emergency room in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I filled out one small form with my name and address, and was taken to a doctor almost immediately. Like most doctors and dentists in larger cities, he spoke good English.
Both he and the nurse were very friendly, smiling, and happy to talk to me. There was no insurance company mandated maximum time period they could spend with me. The bill was minimal compared to the US, and I always felt treated like a human being, not like a number.
Quality of healthcare in Thailand
The big question is: How is the quality of the work?
I have never required serious medical intervention in Thailand, but I have several friends who had operations here and were very satisfied with the results.
Especially Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is famous for attracting tens of thousands of medical tourists from all over the world.
There are Thai hospitals where you feel like you are in a luxury hotel, and you don’t lose your life’s savings in them either.
Thailand’s transgender operations
Thailand is also a favorite place for another kind of operation – the sex change.
There are many transgenders in this country, mostly men who want to become women. They are called ladyboys or katoes.
The Thai physique lends itself to this, and many times it is quite difficult to tell if someone is a woman or a ladyboy.
There is no stigma attached to them either. They are accepted as part of society, even if an unusual part.
There are people coming to Bangkok from all over the world for transgender operations which the Thai doctors are very good at and have had lots of experience with.
Is it worth it to get healthcare in Thailand?
In general, healthcare in Thailand is much cheaper than in the US and the quality is very good, provided you stay with reputable clinics in larger cities or tourist centers.
You are treated in a more personal way, and the Thai propensity to smile at you is a heartwarming touch, especially if it comes from an attentive nurse while you are confined to a hospital bed. It can make a hospital stay a much nicer experience.
Your wallet will smile as well, since you can often save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for expensive procedures compared to many western countries.
The author, Shama Kern, is a long time resident of Thailand. He lives with his Thai wife in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org