Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life & Style: Thailand’s Top Medical Getaways

Bumrungrad and Bangkok Hospital offer first-class medical services at Third World prices.

The sight of porters and valets at their lobbies’ entrance; massive columns, high ceilings and subdued lighting at the lobby; VIP waiting lounges; boutiques and fine dining restaurants exudes a luxurious, but relaxing atmosphere.

Except for the occasional presence of nurses in their white uniforms exiting the lobbies and orderlies pushing wheelchairs, one would think that they are the lobbies of five-star hotels.

But they are more than hotels.

Welcome to Bumrungrad International, Southeast Asia’s largest private hospital, and Bangkok Hospital Medical Center, the flagship of the Bangkok Hospital Group, the biggest hospital chain in Thailand.

"Bumrungrad also boasts of having the largest outpatient facility in the world which can handle 6,000 OPD patients per day."

Over the years, Bumrungrad and Bangkok Hospital have been catering to a new breed of travellers - the so-called medical tourists who travel all the way to Bangkok from various parts of the globe for fast, affordable but high quality medical services.

These tourists have particular needs, travel for a specific reason, and spend more than double that of the average tourists. They are the targets of medical tourism.

Thailand has emerged as the world’s top medical tourism destination after dislodging Singapore seven years ago.

In 2007, Thailand received over a million international patients.

Bangkok Hospital international marketing manager Ralf Krewer says Thailand’s culture and its being among the most popular destinations make it attractive for medical tourists.

The Kasikorn Research Centre expects the number of foreign patients in Thailand to rise to roughly 1.54 million at the end of this year, generating about 40 billion baht ($1.1 billion). It should top two million in 2010.

Medical tourism is a fast booming industry in Asia. Aside from Thailand and Singapore, other major players are India, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“Medical tourism in Asia is a $500 million industry growing by 20% to 30% a year and the industry is expected to grow to $4.4 billion by 2012,” says Kenneth Mays, Bumrungrad’s marketing director. But a recent study estimated potential revenues to be much higher.

Both Bumrungrad and Bangkok Hospital offer a full spectrum of services to their foreign patients starting right upon their arrival at the airport where they are picked up by limousines and brought to the hospital. Medical services range from executive check-ups to cardiac packages, cancer therapy, joint and hip replacement, eye surgery, liposuction and other cosmetic options.

Bumrungrad has a complement of more than 1,000 doctors, of which 200 are full-time, US board-certified and trained in top Western hospitals. Bangkok Hospital’s patients are taken cared of by 650 doctors.

A heart bypass surgery costs $14,500 at Bumrungrad and $17,140 at Bangkok Hospital. A facelift costs $3,544 at Bumrungrad and $3,486 at Bangkok Hospital while a liposuction costs $2,178 at Bumrungrad and $2,615 at Bangkok Hospital.

In 2007, the 554-bed Bumrungrad treated 430,000 foreign patients from more than 190 countries and generated revenues of $280 million. During the same period, the 450-bed Bangkok Hospital had 139,000 foreign patients from 134 countries and generated about $53 million in revenues.

Bumrungrad’s patients come mostly from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and East Asia. By country, most of its patients are from Japan, the US and the United Arab Emirates. Foreign patients of Bangkok Hospital come from UAE, Qatar and Oman.

Both hospitals are equipped with state-of-the art medical facilities but Bumrungrad has a ‘robot pharmacist’, the first of its kind, that distributes medicines to patients with precision, an automated laboratory and a computerised health information system.

On the other hand, Bangkok Hospital is the first and only hospital in Thailand to offer Gamma Knife treatment for neurological diseases.

Bumrungrad also boasts of having the largest outpatient facility in the world which can handle 6,000 OPD patients per day. The facility has 250 examination suites, ambulance and mobile critical care fleet, 24-hour emergency care and a surgery centre.

Both hospitals have deluxe rooms and VIP suites with five-star amenities, including internet, Wi-Fi connectivity and interactive TV. Fully serviced apartments are also available for patients and their families.

To ensure a hassle-free stay, both hospitals also provide airport concierge services, embassy assistance, VIP airport transfers, e-mail contact centre, visa assistance , interpreters and other services to their patients and their families. (By NOEL ADLAI O VELASCO In Bangkok/ ANN/ AsiaNews)

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