July 3, 2010
Every two years or so I go for my annual checkup. I know, it should probably be called a “biannual” checkup, but if I called it that then I would probably go only once every four years. So this is better. We just came back from Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, the main hospital in town that caters to the Expat crowd. That isn’t the reason I go there though. I go there because it is the best one in town and gives great service – for about one tenth the price I would have to pay back home.
A few years ago, after my last “annual” checkup, I wrote the piece below. It is now a chapter in my book Retired Life in Thailand (Check out lots of other ebooks about Thailand at: ebooksinthailand.com/).
I am often asked about medical care in Thailand by people who are thinking of retiring here. In a large city like Chiang Mai where I live, the medical care is excellent. To help answer these questions I thought it would be a good time to resurrect the piece below.
My wife and I hadn’t done anything together for a long time so I thought that we could go out and do something as a couple for once. Like a good wife, married to the same man for more than a third of a century, she said “Let’s go and get our annual physical checkup.” Now that sounded romantic. If you haven’t had experience with the medical services in Thailand, and you are thinking of a checkup, here is what you would be in for.
I usually go for twice as many miles than I should before I get around to changing the oil in my car. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that it had been three years since my last “annual” physical. There are a number of hospitals in our area where one can get a complete work up. There is the government hospital. It is very affordable and since the hospital is affiliated with the local university’s medical school, the doctors are all very well trained and most have had advanced studies in the US or Europe so they speak English. There are also very good private hospitals here that cater to the many Farangs, Expats, and medical tourists. Many of the doctors are the same as you would find at the government hospital (they moonlight), the equipment is first class, the service impeccable, but the price is about three times what the government hospital charges. Waiting times are much less though so we opt for the private one.
At most Thai hospitals everyone is a walk-in. We told the admitting nurse what we wanted and she took a detailed medical history. Waiting time so far, 0 minutes. After that we then had to pick and choose, sort of like from a restaurant menu, all the different tests and procedures we thought we should get.
The computer gives a list of suggestions for people our age and the nurse walks us through what each procedure is for and she helps us decide. My wife doesn’t like mammograms and I hate the prostate exams so we decide to forego them. The nurse gives us both a stern lecture about how important they are and we reluctantly give in. I see from the list that it is a “digital” prostate exam and figure that anything digital entails the use of a computer so I think that maybe it won’t be so bad this time. I forgot that the word “digital” has another meaning altogether (“finger”, same root though since we usually begin to count using our fingers). I didn’t get off as easily as I thought and there was no computer involved in my “digital” exam.
Here is what I chose. Blood test for blood sugar, kidney and liver functions and about 100 things including cholesterol and 4 different kinds of cancer, an EKG, ABI (Ankle Brachial Index) which test to see if there are any circulatory blockages, chest X-ray, abdominal ultrasound that looks at liver, kidneys, spleen, bladder, etc., urinalysis, BMI (body mass index) and Fat Mass (where I got a pretty strong lecture), and of course that “digital” thing. The computer figured out the bill right there. A minute later we were off to our tests. So far I hadn’t had time for the book I brought to read while I waited.
Everyone I went to from the technician who drew blood, to the X-ray guy, to the nurse who scolded me for being too fat, to the “digital” urologist, were all skilled, very professional and very respectful. The test results were ready the next morning. When you come back you talk to a doctor (in English) who explains all the results and offers suggestions or follow up treatment. If there is any indication that you will need to consult with a specialist then you are sent to one immediately. No waiting.
At the end of it all you are given a Health Checkup Report that has all your results and recommendations. This is very useful if you need to consult with different doctors in the future.
I would say that my wife and I had a very successful, fun, day out. You might want to try it. Time spent: 3 hours. Cost: 6,000 baht. Knowing that you have a clean bill of health: priceless.
For a list of accredited hospitals in Thailand check out Retire2Thailand’s Medical Facilities page: http://retire2thailand.com/retire2-medical-facilities.php