By Dr. Michael Moreton
Dr Moreton, a British graduate, trained as an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Montreal, Canada. After practising in the U.S. and Canada for many years, he went to China where he established the first Western-style maternity units in Beijing and Shanghai. He is now the International Medical Co-ordinator at the Bangkok Hospitals in Bangkok and Hua Hin.
Thailand’s reputation as a preferred destination for medical care is complemented by the country’s status as an attractive vacation destination.
In addition, many multi-national companies and International agencies have chosen Bangkok to be their Southeast Asian headquarters because of its reputation as a city that is a pleasant place to live. In 2010, that image was tarnished by political circumstances which were unfortunately magnified by inaccurate reporting by the media.
Thankfully, that is behind us. National elections have been held and, although enthusiastically sensationalized, were relatively peaceful. A new government is in place and democracy has been preserved.
The international hospitals were completely untouched by any of the disturbances, and the patients that came to Bangkok hospitals were quite safe.
People asked me then whether the streets were safe — I had to say that I could not be totally reassuring, foreigners will insist on hiring motor-bikes and falling off them. The injuries to foreigners in Asia are, for the most part, self-inflicted and have no political connections.
Thailand is a country that is well qualified as a destination for the patient seeking medical care. A country’s ability to provide care for non-residents is necessarily built on the structure created to treat its own people.
Only a country with well-trained professions working in a system that embraces excellence, and is well organized and ethical, can hope to build a system to treat visitors coming to that country for medical care.
Thailand’s place in Asia is unique. As the only country in Southeast Asia not to suffer the indignity of colonization, it has been a self-confident, outward looking, internationally minded country since its foundation. It has succeeded in combining its own inherent sense of warmth and hospitality with a well-educated medical community and modern medical technology.
For over a century Thai doctors have been training in the west and then returning home to introduce and integrate their new skills into the Thai system.
This ensures that the International hospitals remain on the cutting edge of medical progress. It also has the benefit that many of these advances are incorporated into the government system to treat the people of Thailand.
Thailand has a long history of treating foreign patients. The first hospital to be built in Bangkok specifically to treat its foreign residents, BNH Hospital, is now over a hundred years old.
The major hospitals Bangkok Hospital, Samitivej Hospital and Bumrungrad have been directing their energies to the International market for over twenty years, and forty percent of their patients are now international. Many of these patients are foreign nationals residing not only in Thailand but in the surrounding countries who recognize Thailand as having excellent medical care.
At the present time the largest group of medical travellers comes from the Middle Eastern countries, but an increasing number of people from Myanmar and Cambodia are seeking care in Bangkok. A large number of patients are now coming from east Africa as well.
Thailand’s formula is to offer courteous, competent, and compassionate care at an affordable cost. These attributes are further enhanced by the world-renowned graciousness of Thai hospitality. Almost every patient who enters a hospital comments on the communicative abilities of the doctors and the gentleness and kindness of the nursing staff.
It is a policy of the Thai government to be supportive of the work of Thai hospitals in providing medical care to foreigners. The leading hospitals have worked to provide a welcoming attitude to visitors and their families.
The hospitals are well placed and easily accessed from the areas where foreigners live or stay. The hospitals run elaborate concierge services, meeting patients at the airport and bringing them either to hotels or to the hospital.
Bangkok Hospital has a dedicated helicopter and is able to perform air evacuation for patients from all over Thailand and neighbouring countries. Arrangements have been made with local hotels for accommodation of outpatients or families and also have serviced apartments, on site, for this purpose.
The concierge departments help patients with visa issues should they outstay their visa, or re-book airline tickets when necessary. Hospitals have aviation medicine consultants who can facilitate repatriation, sometimes with accompanying doctors and nurses.
Bangkok Hospital has a referral center and receives several hundred enquiries daily by email and telephone from throughout the world. A telephone hotline with English-speaking agents is available 24 hours a day. Patients may also ‘walk–in’ either to emergency rooms or request an appointment at a primary care or specialty clinic.
The international hospitals are dedicated to providing comfortable access but even at government hospitals foreign patients can receive treatment if necessary. Of course, in these hospitals, the ability of the staff to communicate in English may be very limited. They often provide initial care and then make arrangements to transfer the patient to an international hospital.
Patients outside of Thailand or in distant parts of the country may use assistance companies to facilitate their transfer and admission to the hospital. This is usually initiated by patients seeking assistance from their insurance companies and are arranged to be brought to Bangkok.
Over the years, the assistance companies and hospitals have developed a cooperative attitude, and these transfers are achieved very smoothly.
Relationships with medical Insurance companies and travel insurance companies are essential in modern medicine. For international hospitals, there are the added complications of multiple companies in different countries, and in different time zones.
Thai hospitals have developed a reputation for quality ethical treatment and relationships are excellent. Hospitals have large departments dealing with third party payers. They obtain approval for admission and treatment plans and guarantee of payment for patients admitted in emergency situations, and are able to obtain pre-authorization for elective admissions.
This is essential not just from the hospital point of view, but also to provide peace of mind for the patient. Bangkok Hospital has developed some special relationships notably with CFE – the French agency that pays for care for French nationals outside of France – and has direct billing agreements with over 90 international Insurance companies, 50 of them in Europe.