August 27, 2014
I’m still a little bit stunned by what just happened.
30 minutes and $73 later, I just walked out of what was -technically- a hospital, but was much closer to an upscale business lounge at a modern airport.
I had a quick procedure done to fix up a nagging issue sustained in my military days (seemingly a lifetime ago). I was dreading it, but it was over in minutes, and I already feel great.
Back where I come from, the same procedure would go for ten times that. I would have wasted away in a waiting room filling out endless paperwork, then spent countless hours arguing with an insurance company.
Here at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, I barely had time to sit down before they called me in to meet with the doctor.
As my hands were full with my turkey club sandwich and drink from Au Bon Pain, the nurse anticipated me fumbling with the door and rushed over to open it for me with a traditional Thai bow (the one that rhymes with wow, not whoa), smiling the whole way. I almost felt guilty.
Then the doctor. Educated in the US at a tier 1 school for both undergraduate degree and medical school. Perfect English. Kind, attentive demeanor. Funny. Thorough. Oh yeah… and she’s gorgeous.
The nurse came in and offered some refreshment– a kind of healthy fruit and vegetable juice that was surprisingly tasty.
And then we got down to the actual procedure, which was over in minutes. We made a few jokes and exchanged goodbyes, then I went downstairs with the single piece of paper they gave me and handed it to the cashier.
They told me ahead of time that it would cost 2,500 Thai baht. She rang up a total slightly less than that figure– 2,350 baht, about $73.
‘Hmmm…’ I thought to myself. ‘They underpromised and overdelivered… How rare in any industry, especially medical care.’
I glanced at my phone– it was 30 minutes from the time I arrived. I didn’t wait around for a single minute. I didn’t fill out any forms. I signed just one piece of paper acknowledging the risks of my procedure.
And the price I paid was a tiny fraction of what it would have cost in my home country; this one procedure alone was nearly worth the flight out here.
I’m grateful that places like this exist. Bumrungrad is far from perfect. But the quality of the treatment is excellent, as is the value for price.
And boy does it beat having to sell a kidney in order to pay for medical treatment at a hospital built by some soulless designer with a penchant for whitewashed walls and linoleum tile floors.
Every time I’m here I’m always amazed… that the United States, with all of its intellectual and financial capital, cannot match Thailand.
US industry can provide so many other high quality products and services to vast consumer markets for a reasonable price. Why not something as important as medical care?
The US government has asked the same question. And its answer is, predictably, more regulation and central planning.
Giving people access to affordable, high quality medical care may be a nice idea in theory. In practice, every ‘solution’ they’ve centrally planned, from food safety to education to energy policy, has been disastrous.
Can we really expect the government’s increased involvement and regulations over medical care to be any better?
If you’re bothered by the idea of any government lording over your private health matters, consider looking abroad.
We talk a lot in this column about the concept of international diversification. Where you hold you savings. Where you invest. Where you earn money. Where you store digital assets. Etc.
It’s 2014. There’s no reason to live, work, bank, invest, operate a business, etc. in the same place. You can pick and choose the best places for each of these facets of your life, custom-tailored to your situation, wherever it is treated best.
Why hold savings at an insolvent bank earning interest at rates that don’t come close to keeping up with inflation, when you can shift some funds overseas at a strong, stable bank abroad earning 6% with no currency risk?
Medical care is no different. Just as your capital should go where it is treated best, your health should go where it is cared for best.
Don’t feel like you have to resign yourself to a system whose incentives are stacked against you. There are options. This is one of them. It just takes opening one’s mind to a global perspective.