A Tip for Medical Care in Bangkok
Costs for health care have been steadily rising in Thailand in recent years, and many farangs say the kingdom is no longer as good a deal as it once was. However, here's a tip for anyone facing the prospect of an expensive medical procedure: Go to Chulalongkorn Hospital.
A little over a year ago, I developed a shoulder condition that's age-related (I'm fast approaching 50). Nothing incapacitating, but there's a constant mild level of pain. Cortizone shots did not seem very effective, so I had an MRI at BNH Hospital here in Bangkok late last December. Without going into detail, I need an operation. BNH quoted Bt280,000! My insurance would cover only Bt75,000 of that, leaving me to pay Bt205,000. Yikes!
BUT, I happened to know that my doctor – one of the top shoulder specialists in Thailand – was actually based at Chula Hospital. He only sees patients two nights a week at BNH. So I made arrangements to see him at Chula. This is the SAME DOCTOR, mind you. BNH wanted Bt280,000; if I put myself into the queue for daytime surgery at Chula, the estimate is Bt87,000. That's quite a difference – Bt280,000 versus Bt87,000 – and insurance will cover a large chunk of that (probably not Bt75,000 worth like at BNH, but still). But here's the catch: The queue is a bit long, and I'll have to wait until August or September. Well, okay, this is not an emergency, and the pain is very mild, so I'm going to sweat it out and save a bundle.
If you do consider going to Chulalongkorn Hospital, be aware that it is not bright and shiny like the five-star places. It's clean enough but definitely has a bit of a Third World feel. That should not be off-putting for those of us who have spent some time here, but newer arrivals in Thailand may be averse to this. There is also the language situation. It's best if you can speak some Thai or at least take a Thai speaker with you.
Going in the evening is much better, after 4:30PM. This is because during the daytime, they accept only a certain number of patients a day, something like a few thousand, and it's first come first served. You must arrive early in the morning; you will be turned away if you are too late and the quota has been filled. And even if you're not turned away, it's a bit of a zoo. Being a teaching hospital, the doctors at Chula will usually have a group of medical students in tow, and they will all stare at you as if you were a specimen in a zoo. On the plus side, the office visit is free. The doctors are civil servants who receive a monthly salary from the government, and if you are one of the lucky ones not turned away in the daytime, there is no charge for the basic consultation. However, the overall hassle is simply not worth it for all but the cheapest of Cheap Charlies.
Using the evening after-hours clinic is much better. In a bid to stem the tide of doctors moving to private hospitals, Chula allows doctors to see patients after their normal day and charge a small fee, which is only Bt300. The evening clinic starts at 4:30PM. You can make an appointment ahead of time, and you know you will get in. But once again, this is not Bumrungrad or BNH; you may have to wait quite a bit after your appointment time, but at least it's not as crowded as in the daytime. Take a book with you.
Back to my surgery. As I said, I will have to wait until August or September. Now, there IS evening surgery at Chula, which is sort of express. It’s like the evening clinic. Since this is outside doctors' regular hours, there are extra fees involved, but if I opted for this, I could have my operation "within a month" they said. However, my estimate would then rise to Bt120,000. By waiting a few months for the daytime surgery, I save at least Bt33,000. The extra Bt33,000 would not be covered by insurance, I'd have to pay that myself, so I'll wait. And it’s not like the daytime clinic where there’s a chance of being turned away that day; I’ll have a definite date set once I get into the queue. (I will be placed in the queue after I see the doctor one more time this month.) But even if I were to opt for the evening surgery, Bt120,000 is still quite a bit less than Bt280,000. And remember: It’s THE SAME DOCTOR as at BNH.
The doctors who work in both the private hospitals and at Chula do not seem to mind if you’d rather see them at Chula. In fact, I’ve learned it’s common for local residents to do this if they are not adequately insured. In 2006, I was being treated by a throat doctor at BNH for polyps that had appeared on my vocal cords. She, too, is based at Chula. Fortunately, medication and a slight change in diet cleared that up, but for a while it looked like I might need a biopsy. I asked about seeing her at Chula if it came to that, and she said sure, no problem.
So I urge anyone facing an operation or any other serious medical procedure to check out Chulalongkorn Hospital. Although a public hospital, it enjoys a special status, so they try to keep standards up. Many of the doctors in the five-star facilities, such as my doctor, are actually based there. If you are interested in saving some money on health care while still receiving good quality and even seeing the same doctor you may see anyway at your private hospital, especially if surgery is going to be involved, then I can recommend Chulalongkorn.
Really excellent information. Medical care is not as cheap as it once was and not all of us are earning a shopping amount so tips like this can make a very big difference.