by Peter MelzerIt’s not a stretch to call Jamie Johnson an accidental tourist in Thailand. While touring with a Christian singing group, Johnson, a diabetic from the United States, developed an infection in her ankle that shut down her kidneys. She was evacuated by airplane from Malaysia to Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok – a facility she had never heard of in a country she had never been to and in a city she had associated with a sex shows in beer bars. “My husband back home was thinking, ‘She’s going to be in a straw hut’,” she says.
Johnson, though, was lucky enough to land in Asia’s first internationally accredited hospital and one of the most modern and efficient medical facilities in the world. Last year the hospital treated 400,000 foreign patients – the highest of any hospital in the world – from more than 150 countries, for everything from heart disease to hip replacements to breast implants. The attraction: world-class medicine at developing-world prices. And patients get velvet-glove treatment redolent of a five-star hotel. “We deliver the one thing that people want in health care but don’t expect to get – service,” says Ruben Toral, the hospitals marketing director.
Some health-insurance companies are embracing medical tourism to reduce costs and make policy-holders happy. It is only a matter of time before the phenomenon evolves into medical outsourcing, says Mack Banner, Bumrungrad’s CEO. “People are going to leave their country, they’re going to go overseas and they’re going to get health care,” he says. To make room for them Bumrungrad is building an 18-storey outpatient centre, which will double the hospitals capacity to 6000 outpatients per day. That’s room for a lot of tourists, accidental or otherwise.