Getting Sick and Getting Better in Thailand

March 31, 2011

A few weeks ago a friend went to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital for a simple procedure and dropped me an email about it. He complained about how the prices at the hospital and gone up considerably and how he opted to go to the government hospital for his treatment. He was very happy with his treatment there and with the cost. I attached his email as a way of getting this info out to my readers (Not Happy with Chiang Mai Ram Hospital).

Now it’s my turn.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Thailand was a good place to stay healthy. But sometimes our health just seems to want to remind us how impermanent all physical things really are. I wish it weren’t so, but occasionally this 65 year old body does break down and I do get sick (which is why this latest post took so long in coming). So, with the object of continuing to give you information about the Thai medical system here so that you can make informed decisions for yourself, I’ll relate my story.

I’m not one for getting headaches, only one or two in the last 5 years, so when I woke up one morning a few weeks ago with the worst pain in my head that I have ever felt I knew something wasn’t right. The pain shot up the left side of my neck and up to the top of my head. It wasn’t one of those inside-the-brain kind of pains so I knew it wasn’t a migraine and the best way to describe it was that it felt like someone hit me upside the head with a lead pipe.

A couple of days later, after lots of pain killers and heat pads, with the pain seeming to get worse if that were possible, I broke down and did what I should have done in the first place. I consulted the Internet.

I’m pretty good at searching for answers on the Internet since I worked for 20 years creating databases for large corporations. I know how searches work. So I was able to find some conditions that fit my symptoms – shooting pain on one side of the head, neck and throat pain, sensitivity to light, and a burning sensation to touch of any kind on my scalp – like my hair was on fire. I thought of the Arnold Swarzenegger movie quote “Maybe it’s a tumaaaa”, and hoped that wasn’t it. The Internet treatment suggestion: Get thee to a doctor. Which is what I finally did.

I went to the above mentioned Chiang Mai Ram Hospital.

A little aside here – Chiang Mai Ram is a private hospital and is more expensive than the local government hospital. A friend of mine just recently went to the outpatient clinic at the government hospital and his wait was many hours, to get an appointment to see a specialist, and then he came back a second and third time and did finally get good inexpensive treatment after that. In America I would have had to see a general practitioner (about $100) who would then recommend a specialist. I would call the specialist and probably wait a number of pain-filled weeks before I could see him (a couple of hundred dollars) and finally get drug prescriptions (lots more money), then follow-up appointments at hundreds of dollars each.

Here is what happened at Chiang Mai Ram. I went to the receptionist and told her my problem. She immediately suggested that I see their neurologist. No problem with that I said; I would have requested one if she hadn’t suggested it. I went up to the 4th floor, told the nurse who I was, and was told to wait. I got out my book, which I found impossible to read because of my head pain. But before I could put on the earphones of my mp3 player I was called into the neurologist’s office – total waiting time, 3 minutes.

My doctor was a young, pretty, woman, who greeted me warmly and asked which language I preferred to use with her. Since I had spent all morning looking up the Thai words for my symptoms I asked if we could speak Thai (to give me some practice). She said fine although I believe she would have been just as comfortable in either language.

Now I had an idea of what was wrong with me but kept quiet about my self-diagnosis just to see what she would say. I told her my symptoms but before saying anything she gave me a simple neurological exam, checking deep into my eyes and then checking reflexes and asking all kinds of questions. When she was sure I didn’t have a “tumaaa” she offered her opinion. “I believe you have what is called Occipital Neuralgia”, she said. Exactly what my Internet expertise led me to believe.

In my searching through the Internet I found so many people with just this condition. A common complaint heard was that it took so long and so many visits to many doctors, and so many weeks of pain, before they could get the correct diagnosis of Occipital Neuralgia. That was probably because it is a somewhat rare condition and they had seen lots of non-specialist doctors before getting to see a true neurologist. Knowing this, I was quite impressed with my doctor and the hospital overall.

To conclude, my doctor showed me some pictures of the scull and spinal column to illustrate what might be causing the problem. She assured me that it was treatable (remember, I still felt that lead pipe bouncing off my head at this time), and prescribed some medication (muscle relaxants, neuralgia meds, pain killers) and scheduled a follow-up appointment.  After a few days the pain had decreased until it was like a simple wooden paddle hitting me upside the head. The doctor was quite pleased during our follow-up and said I was on the way to recovery.

It is a few days later now and the pain is about 95% gone.

Cost for all this: Doctors fee 300 baht per visit, 2 weeks medication (4 different kinds) 1,700 baht. Total cost about $77. Being pain-free, priceless.

Just to prove how successful my treatment has been – note that I have been able to keep it all together long enough to write this post – something I couldn’t have done a few days ago.

Here’s wishing good health to you all.

4 Responses to “Getting Sick and Getting Better in Thailand”

  1. Andy said

    It’s a good example and it shows that getting care from a doctor is more affordable than in some other countries but I wonder about the broader aspect of health care. Some problems can be dealt with in a doctor’s office but what happens if someone has a stroke or has to spend time in a hospital after being run over by a scooter? The cost would be much higher.

    Relatives have advised me to purchase health insurance in case I end up in hospital and need long term care. I’ve checked the cost of expat insurance with insurance brokers where I live and because of my age and health, I have been quoted around $1500 to $2000 per month but this would eat up a good part of my budget. It seems the choice I have is to pay this or risk having to pay a much larger fee if I end up in hospital with a serious problem. I have also heard that hospitals will not even look at you unless they are guaranteed to be paid, presumably by insurance.

    What’s a fellow to do?

    • Check with one of the local Expat clubs here (they are all over) for insurance deals. A friend just told me he is getting some kind of health insurance from his Expats Club for about $1,500 per year. He is 63 years. I would never buy insurance from an insurance broker. Guess what their motivation is. To help you out in your time of need – NOT! It’s to make a profit.

      One thing you can do is stash some money away in a long term account here (interest is not too bad) that you would never touch unless there was a medical emergency. How much to stash? Here is what I do. I priced the cost of a heart bypass operation and keep about double that in an account here. I never touch it and I never look at it. All regular doctor and dentist bills I pay for with cash – very reasonable. The account is for the big stuff. I don’t sweat the small stuff. You do your own calculations that work for you. Good luck.

      Note: Private hospitals, the medical tourist ones, might check to see if you have any money (never happened to me though). The government hospitals (and there are some good ones) can’t do that. I have never heard of anyone being turned down for medical care here. I worked in hospitals in America and saw that happen all the time.

      I go to the private fancy hospitals for regular checkups and diagnostic work. If there were something big (none so far knock on wood) then I would go to the government hospital at about 1/3 the price.

  2. Andy said

    I’m having trouble logging in but I’ll see if I can post anyway. I continued to research after posting here and found an insurance company that has provided some info.

    565/62 Moo 10 (Next to Big C)
    Nongprue, Banglamung,
    Chonburi 20150
    Phone: 038 415 795-6
    Fax: 038 374 251

    They sent me a brochure from this insurance company but the quote provided online is different from that of the broker. It looks like the online company offers several different options so that is probably why. I am still looking into this.

    I was also able to find some info about costs at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok


    Real cost

    So if I put aside $30,000 or more, it appears that would cover the typical cost of a heart bypass operation and 7 day hospital stay.

  3. […] Mai has a number of really good hospitals. I have written about health care in Thailand before and my opinion is, even with the Affordable Care Act back home, I still prefer the care I […]

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