Seven reasons to seek medical care overseas (including one surprise)

April 9, 2012
Bangkok, Thailand

One of the things that sets Thailand apart from nearly every other place on the planet is how absurdly cheap things are given the high quality of service.

This becomes crystal clear to even the most casual observer who wanders in to one of the country’s thousands of massage studios, where, for a whopping $5, a local will put his/her heart and soul into rubbing your feet for an hour.

This isn’t something that most people in developed countries would do at any price. And yet, here in Thailand, there is no shortage of folks happy and willing to make those knots go away for the price of a Frappuccino.

Another area where this price/quality anomaly is apparent is in healthcare. Private medical and dental care in Thailand is top notch… in many cases (as I will explore below) far superior to what you might receive back home. Yet it costs a fraction as much.

It’s not just in Thailand; several countries across Asia– South Korea, India, Singapore, and even mainland China– have emerged as the top places in the world to seek treatment. The reasoning is quite simple.

1. Cost is obvious.

Prices for complex procedures are typically half as much as western prices. Bumrungrad International Hospital, Thailand’s most famous medical tourism destination, has a great site publishing median prices for many common procedures.

Total hip replacement, for example, runs about $18,500 in Thailand… versus about $40,000 in the United States. Breast augmentation at Bangkok Hospital will cost around $3,200… versus $5,000 to $15,000 in North America and Europe.

The cost savings also carries over to pharmaceuticals, from blood pressure medication to OTC analgesics. I was feeling a bit under the weather this weekend and bought a pack of Tylenol plus throat lozenges at a local pharmacy for just $2.

2. On that note, many pharmaceuticals are frequently available over-the-counter in foreign markets.

Any gringo who has ever been to Mexico or Panama may have noticed everything ranging from Codeine to Viagra to Amoxicillin available for purchase OTC. It’s similar in Asia.

3. The quality of care overseas is often unparalleled.

Marquee hospitals in Asia (like Bumrungrad) are more like 7-star hotels than anything else– exquisite lobbies, concierge service, gourmet restaurants, luxury accommodations, nurses that are more like butlers, etc.

You’re not just some number in a system– you receive a great deal of personal attention from physicians, not the typical ‘slam, bam, pay the man’ that people in the west are accustomed to.

Not only is this approach refreshing, it also tends to improve the quality of treatment when the doctor spends more than 30-seconds with you.

4. There is no FDA.

One of the most important things to understand about healthcare overseas is that cutting edge, life-saving technologies are embraced without being regulated to death.

Without doubt, western governments (led by the United States) are stifling medical innovation. The regulation is too much of a hassle, and it’s just too damned expensive to negotiate the maze of FDA trials.

As such, there is a wider range of treatment options available overseas… especially in Asia.

To give you an example, a new surgical approach which combines focused ultrasound with magnetic resonance imaging has been shown to eradicate certain cancerous growths without actually having to operate on the patient.

This could potentially be a game changer… for the rest of the world. You’re not going to see it in the US for quite some time, if ever, thanks to the FDA.

Another area that the FDA has stifled is gene therapy. While genetic researchers languish in the US, China has pulled ahead as the clear global leader in genetic therapy, treating everything from cancer to Parkinson’s.

This is usually a huge surprise for people who have been conditioned to believe that the US has the most cutting-edge treatment in the world.

5. Asia is also the epicenter of traditional, non-western medical care.

If you’re not one to get pumped full of drugs when you get sick, Asia is home to some of the world’s earliest healing methods. And again, you’re not going to see herbs and supplements being regulated out of the market.

6. Privacy is far greater overseas.

When you’re dealing with a private hospital in Asia, there is no government healthcare system monitoring your records… no insurance conglomerate looking over your shoulder marking down pre-existing conditions.

7. It’s fun.

Naturally, when you can hop on a plane to receive top quality medical treatment, save a bundle of money, and visit a beautiful, exotic country in one fell swoop, this is an experience you definitely want to have.

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