Thailand brought us our first encounters with health care systems outside the United States. For several years, I have had kidney stones at about the rate of one per year. However, since we left on our trip, I have been having them more frequently and so far have passed five or six stones. I have so far on our trip been fine without medical intervention, but our first night in Bangkok I had one that was more painful than any one I have experienced before. Given the increasing frequency of the kidney stones, we decided it was time to see a physician.
In Thailand there are two main options: a private hospital and a public one. The advantages are what you might expect -- the private one has quick service, the public one is extremely inexpensive. We decided to be like the locals and check out the public hospital. Although it serves nearly everyone in Bangkok, it is well regarded and is where the king is treated, so it has to be pretty good, right?
We arrived early (~7:15 am) to try to beat the crowd. The building the taxi dropped us off in (one building in a massive campus) had many lines for many different clinics. There was some English on the Thai signs and we bumbled around for 20 minutes getting in various lines and talking with various people that spoke a little English to try to figure out which line was the one we needed. Eventually I figured out we were in the pediatric building and the paintings of elephants and giraffes on the wall made a lot more sense. We exited and followed the English signs to the out patient building.
Once we arrived in the out patient building, all written English disappeared. We passed row after row of people in wheelchairs and stretchers with a number assigned to each. Despite our best effort to get there early, we could see well over 80 people numbered in wheelchairs who were to be seen before me. We'd like to say that we stuck it out and received the healthcare that the everyday Thai person does, as once you get to a doctor, the doctor probably speaks English and is a knowledgeable professional. But with such a crowd and no more English signs, it was a bit too overwhelming. We hopped into a cab and went to a private hospital.
Palatial would probably overstate how nice the private hospital was, but not by much. The marble floors and chandeliers made it nicer than any hotel we have stayed in this trip.
Registering me took only about 10 minutes and, although the urologist wasn't available for another 90 minutes, he did see me exactly at 10am when he said he would. I had several tests done, including an x-ray and ultrasound. In short, the doctor said that, besides the pain of the kidney stones, I would probably be alright until we got back to the USA for more extensive tests and treatments. If there was a problem that needed medical attention, I would know as the pain would not end in the normal 90-120 minute time window it usually does.
The entire cost of the visit before insurance: $152
Later in Thailand Kelsi had a nasty sore on her leg that we could not determine the source of and was spawning other smaller sores around it. We visited a private hospital in Phuket and she was given a small regiment of antibiotic cream and pills that resolved the issue in under a week. The cost of that escapade: $92
Overall, if you have to get sick while traveling, Thailand is a good place to do it. We know have a little bit of a better understanding of medical tourism. Prices here are so cheap... We even briefly toyed with looking into LASIK for me while we were there. If that surgery did not require a three month follow up appointment, we may have given it serious consideration because it was about 1/3 the cost as in the USA.