Posts Tagged ‘medical tourism’

The Thai government has implemented a visa extension for tourists coming from some countries for medical treatment. The countries are Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar (CLMV) plus China. Medical tourists from those countries will be able to stay for 90 days without applying for an extension rather than 30 days as was the previous case.

Bangkok Post has a story that mentions the Thai government’s efforts to capitalize on the global wellness trend. Part of that effort is something they are calling Amazing Thailand Health and Wellness Showcase 2017. They put together a website to promote it with the ridiculous url The event was held on 11 August 2017. I missed it since I was out of the country at the time. Here is the list of categories being represented by various healthcare givers at the event:

  • General Hospital
  • Plastic Surgery Hospital
  • Regenerative & Functional Medicine Hospital
  • Anti-Aging Clinic
  • Cosmetic & Aesthetic Clinic
  • Dental Clinic
  • Cell Therapy Clinic
  • Lab Check Up
  • Medical Spa
  • Senior Nursing Care Center

I think it would have been interesting to see what some of the more unusual treatments being offered are all about.

I recognized one of the so-called anti-aging clinics, Panacee, because they have a branch at the My Ozone resort in the Khao Yai area not far from where I live. It’s a big nice resort in the rolling hills near Khao Yai National Park. I took a look at the web page (ridiculous url here and noticed a couple of things. They mention the resort is located in a “…magnificent 475 acre valley of natural ozone source.” In the next paragraph they mention another branch that is located in Germany. They say “Panacee medical center, Grand Rommerbad is situated in the ozone rich area of the Black Forest.” Apparently this medical group does not know that “Ozone in the air we breathe can harm our health”. That’s the first sentence on the US government EPA website on the page about health effects of ozone. Ozone is a pollutant, and “Even relatively low levels of ozone can cause health effects.” Does that give anyone else pause about trusting these people with your health?

Medical tourism wannabes

Posted: July 30, 2010 in Health

Clicking through my Google alerts today I see a couple of stories that just seem to be wannabe groups trying to label themselves as medical tourism destinations. First is the story from the online version of the Philippine Star with a story that starts like this:

As a major medical tourism destination, the Philippines is given the chance to show to the world how advanced its medical facilities and expertise are.

No, you aren’t, at least not yet, a major medical tourism destination. I know you want to be, and yes you have a lot of great nurses, although most of them have moved to other countries. But the Philippines is way down the list of medical tourism destinations, and now that everybody wants to be one the competition is only going to get tougher, so it will take much more that calling yourself one to be one.

Also in that story is this little gem:

The medical spa concept was created by ValdecaƱas herself.

The reference is to Dr. Mary Jane Torres ValdecaƱas who is the founder of the Zen Institute, a medical spa in the Philippines. Another doubtful claim. Medical spas have been around for quite a while. Is this doctor really the person who created the concept? I think they are trying too hard in the Philippines.

Next we check in with the International Medical Travel Journal, “The World Leading Journal for the Medical Travel Sector”. Hmm, more big claims. But that’s not really the point. It’s the story about inbound medical tourism to the USA and UK. Again. Again, just calling yourself a destination doesn’t make you one. The flight to better care at affordable prices without wait times is away from these two countries. Ah, this quote gives you their angle:

Travelling to the U.S. for healthcare can be costly and complicated for international travellers. Usually, the patients are wealthy people who can afford high quality care. In this fast growing market the U.S. has a chance to be very competitive.

I see, if you can afford to pay outrageous prices and navigate the travel complexities then the U.S. is for you. Great marketing concept.

My personal experiences with Bangkok Hospital Group have been less than stellar. And lately I have read some other expats in Thailand have had unfavorable experiences as well. There is a similar theme running through those accounts that I recognize, a lot of over priced fluff and not always the best care.

I feel like they have Bumrungrad envy. Medical tourists were dazzled by the 4/5 star hotel experience of Bumrungrad and the world press made a big deal of it. So BGH tried to emulate that with fancy lobbies, dual big screen LCD TVs in fancy private hospital rooms, gourmet shops in the canteen, that sort of thing. The only problem is that it seems like their systems and doctors aren’t there to back up that fancy facade, at least not to the level of Bumrungrad. It seems to me like a classic case of pak chee loi naa, that old Thai saying which roughly translated means the same as window dressing.

I’ve read that BGH continues to open new facilities around Thailand at a frenzied pace. There is one in Hua Hin that will open soon and news that a Pak Chong Bangkok Hospital branch is planned. That would all be exciting if they were to have excellent doctors and service instead of just pushing overpriced medication.

In my post about the drug rehabilitation program at Wat Thamkrabok in Lopburi, Thailand, I referred to it as “extreme medical tourism”. I thought that was sort of an interesting concept so did a search for that term today. There were a few results, mostly spammy stuff pushing run-of-the-mill overseas medical centers. But one item stood out as true extreme medical tourism.

It’s a story about an sufferer of severe asthma who could not get relief from existing drug treatments and was actually suffering drug side effects. He was driven to find an alternate way to control his condition. And he found it by infecting himself with hookworm. Do you know that that is? It is a tiny parasitic worm that is found in feces and normally infects people who walk around barefoot in moist tropical climates where there are not adequate sewer systems.

Wow, traveling to Cameroon and walking around barefoot in open air latrines to deliberately infect yourself with a parasite found in fecal matter, now that is extreme medical tourism! The detailed story with photos is here. The story was also commented on a bit at this blog.

The medical tourism industry seems to be getting kind of confusing. Everybody wants a piece of it. I saw a news story that says 50 countries have declared themselves to be medical tourism destinations. That seems a little optimistic for a lot of them. My Google alert for “medical tourism” yesterday contained links to stories about medical tourism in India, Philippines, Korea, China and even Iran – yeah, Iran even says they will become a medical tourist hot spot.

It’s really confusing when the same countries that people flee to avoid high costs and long wait times come out and say they are going to develop their health care system to attract foreign patients. It seems like they are trying to talk their way out of a bit of a contradiction. In the story about Canada the goal is to help fund the “free” health care of Canadians with fees paid by foreign patients. But that’s a little tricky because they are competing with other established international hospitals that are much lower cost. It seems possible, however, that they could command a premium from U.S. patients because of proximity (lower travel costs and greater convenience) as well a applying lots of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about seeking treatment in “third world countries” (despite, of course, that many of those overseas hospitals have certifications the Canadian hospitals don’t even have). But it might work. The question is can they find a sweet spot in the pricing that is competitive yet still profitable.

I saw a short article on the website caleld International Medical Travel Journal which bills itself as “The World Leading Journal for the Medical Travel Sector”. That’s quite a claim. I always become a little skeptical when sites make those kind of claims while at the same time plastering Adsense ads on their site, but that’s another story.

This story says that the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has produced consumer guidance for American patients, urging them to ask the right questions when considering traveling internationally for surgery. Seems like a good idea. Let’s see if a hidden agenda becomes apparent, because so much of the stuff I have read by American doctors and health care professionals contains many attempts at spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about seeking treatment overseas.

The first point in the guidance is to ask the question “Have I involved my local doctor in my decision-making?” That sounds like a good idea but in practice it likely fails to be useful. So often your local doctor knows little about international medical centers and you will hear comments about risks of treatment in “third world countries”. This kind of stuff comes from doctors who may not even have the same level of training as those “third world” doctors, or whose medical facilities don’t have the same level of certification. When I first traveled to Thailand I asked my doctor about health risks and immunizations needs. He gave me a crazy list of things I needed to do and vaccinations I should get. After living here for many years I now know he was clueless. I think he just gave me some list from the CDC, which is a pretty poor statement about the CDC’s awareness of health issues worldwide.

The rest of the list from the ASA seems pretty reasonable. Things like considering pre and post surgery care, contingencies if there are complications, and doing a good job of screening healt care provider credentials, all seem like obvious stuff but good to have in a list so they aren’t overlooked.

Ok, so do your due diligence, but if you ask your local doctor questions be sure to ask what his/her background and knowledge are regarding major hospitals in foreign countries because it might be a lot less than yours.

There is a temple that is pretty famous in Thailand called Wat Thamkrabok. It’s where drug addicts go for rehab. The detox program is administered by monks at the temple and is quite severe. It involves a week long ritual of drinking a potent herbal concoction that induces severe vomiting and then follows by some intense herbal sauna treatments. In addition to the detox treatments the “patients” follow typical temple life which involves rising very early in the morning, doing temple chores, eating like the monks (restrictions on when they can eat) and I believe practicing meditation. “Graduates” take some vows before leaving about not falling back into the old habit.

I had heard that some foreigners go to the temple for the program. I didn’t know it was a little bit famous outside of Thailand but apparently so. has a photo gallery showing some westerners and Thais going through the program. The story says the temple is in Saraburi. We pass it whenever we visit my sister-in-law who lives in Lopburi. I thought it was in Lopburi, maybe it’s close to the border between the two provinces.

So I’m coining a new phrase. I’m calling this “extreme medical tourism”. Need to go to drug detox? Don’t have the money for all the pampering the stars get when they go to drug rehab? Or maybe you just like things a little more rough and raw. Wat Thamkrabok might be for you.

I previously posted some thoughts and a story about the outgoing side of medical tourism in the U.S. and the uncertainties due to the new health care reform bill. On the incoming side here in Thailand there is another source of uncertainty completely unrelated to U.S. health care reform. It’s the political unrest that has been in full swing for a month now with protesters blocking major intersections and completely disrupting access to major shopping areas and impacting nearby international hospitals. The violence and deaths that occurred have hurt Thailand’s image as a safe destination, causing many tourists to cancel their plans to visit the Kingdom.

Major international hospitals in Bangkok revealed some numbers in a recent Bangkok Post story. Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc (BGH), the country’s largest private hospital operator, said foreign patient visits decreased by 20% this month compared with the same period of 2009. This is the hospital group that a few years ago went through a major expansion and bought up hospitals and clinics across the country. One of their clinics is in the small town near where I live and one of their large hospitals in the one in Korat where we recently did our annual health screening.

According to Pongsak Viddayakorn, the BGH’s executive adviser, many cancellations resulted from travel warnings by European and Middle Eastern governments. Foreign patients including expatriates living in Thailand account for 35-40% of the total for BGH, so there is concern that if the political unrest continues there could be significant earnings impact.

Well known Bumrungrad Hospital said its business faced minor pressure from the protesters’ occupation of the Ratchaprasong intersection earlier this month which is not far from the hospital. Bumrungrad’s foreign patients are a large fraction of its total customers. Phyathai Hospitals estimates a 7-10% decline of international patients arriving at this month compared with last April. International patients represent only 10-12% of their total clients so the impact is not as large as for BGH and Bumrungrad.

As I said in an earlier post I’ve been wondering about how the medical tourism industry will be impacted by the U.S. health care reform law. Well, there’s a conference on that.

According to a press release I read, Irving Stackpole, President of Stackpole & Associates, a health care market research and marketing company, will give a presentation on the impact of US health care reform on the medical tourism sector at the First Latin American Global Medicine and Wellness Congress in San Jose, Costa Rica on Monday, April 26, 2010.

The preamble says that the new health care law will have far reaching consequences for the international health travel sector. Historically, the industry in the U.S. has marketed mainly to uninsured Americans and self-insured health plan providers. Stackpole says that as a result of the new bill the industry will be in flux for the next two years. I don’t know but it seems like it might be longer than that because the provisions in the new law are phased in for longer than that. He says that there do appear to be some opportunities for international health travel organizations as a result of the law.

Ah, but no details in the press release on where those opportunities may be. I guess you have to sign up for the conference. But since it’s in Costa Rica I don’t think I’ll be making it. I’m still thinkin along the lines of my earlier post, that the big opportunity might be with insurance companies trying to reduce their costs by sending patietns overseas.

I have been watching the U.S. health care reform debate with only slight interest. That’s because I no longer live in the U.S. and don’t have any need for insurance there. We go to the world class private hospitals in Thailand for all our medical care – so fantastic compared to all my experiences with health care back in the states. I’ve had more than a passing interest in the whole medical tourism field since moving to Thailand. I didn’t realize it at first but this country is a huge medical tourist destination, something like half a million Americans per year come here for elective or uninsured medical procedures. I had no idea it was that well-known.

The thing I’m wondering about is what effect the new health bill in the U.S. will have on Americans traveling overseas to see a doctor. I haven’t paid so much attention to the details, mostly read just sound bites in news stories about it. As I understand it, Americans now are required by law to buy medical insurance. That seems just so amazing in a commie sort of way. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I was living there. BTW, does this new law mean that even expats like me have to buy insurance? LOL at them if that is the case. I’m doing fine paying out-of-pocket over here.

All thumbing my nose at the U.S. government aside, if people are forced to pay for insurance then that means they are probably going to be highly motivated to use those benefits. So that kills the medical tourism option for most of them, right? Or does the new system mean that Americans will end up with wait times like the ones so famous in the UK and Canada? So much that although they are forced to pay for insurance they still will travel to get the health care they need in a timely way – is that going to happen? I suppose it will take some time for that to develop so we won’t know for a while.

Or maybe something else will evolve from this. Some insurance companies have already started to cover medical tourism by paying for patients to get things like major surgery overseas. With new restrictions on insurance companies that forbid them from canceling policies when people get sick and denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, maybe the insurance companies will accelerate the trend to cover and encourage patients to get treatment at lower cost overseas hospitals.

It seems like it could go in several directions, or maybe all directions at once. I guess I will have to keep watching the news about moves the insurance companies are making to survive and prosper in the new legislative environment.