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Health screening at Phyathai Hospital

I went for my annual health screening last week. The last few years I have gone to Bumrungrad for my annual checkup. They are definitely top shelf in all respects. So this year when I chose Phyathai Hospital I knew that they would have to do very well to measure up to Bumrungrad.

Phyathai is another large Bangkok-based hospital group. They bill themselves as an international private hospital and if you have a look at the Phyathai Hospital website it looks quite slick with all their modern facilities and equipment presented in pretty good English, although a little cleanup by a native speaker would help. Like many Thai websites there is a little too much flash animation and annoying sound effects. And unlike Bumrungrad’s website where their health screening packages are prominently detailed with pricing, Phyathai either don’t provide that kind of detail or it is so well hidden that I could not find it. A phone call to the hospital was required to get the details, a lot less convenient than browsing the website.
Arrival at Phyathai 2, where health screenings are performed, is slightly less impressive than the website. It is a large older building crammed into a crowded part of Bangkok with a cramped, narrow entrance off the street and a narrow winding alley to enter and exit the parking structure. Inside, the building looks a little old and worn, although some wards have been remodeled and give a better impression.

I chose the health screening package for men over 45. It is quite extensive, including all the usual blood work and urinalysis, check x-ray, whole abdomen ultrasound, EKG, and prostatic marker test. It also included a bone density test which I thought was unusual for the men’s package. The cost was 8,000 baht, or about US$230 at the current exchange rate.

Although Phyathai wants to be an international hospital, like Bumrungrad and some others, they don’t seem to have the English speaking staff that the others have. All of the nurses and technicians that handled me spoke but a few words of English. To Phyathai’s credit, they assign an English-speaking assistant to foreign patients to help them find their way from one test area to another. According to their website they have “Service Ambassadors” who can speak other languages as well. But unless the assistant follows you into the examination room, which mine did not, you might have to pantomime a bit or speak a little bit of Thai to know what the tech wants of you. The doctors, of course, all speak English fluently so that is not a problem. And the nurses and technicians all seemed to be quite expert in their jobs. The equipment all appeared to be new and state of the art.

A couple hours it took to complete everything and then I had my consultation with the doctor. He used a little computer animation to step through each of the tests, their meanings, and my results along with recommendations. It was kind of cute, seemed a little childish to me, but I suppose a lot of patients might like it. I suppose I’m a little too serious. This is where some issues began to come to my attention.

First issue was the test result for my Fasting Blood Sugar. It was slightly above the upper limit. The doctor noted that and said it was nothing serious, just cut down on the sweets a little and lose some weight. Uh, doc, you should look at the patient when you say something like that. I am 174 cm tall and weigh 70 kg. If I lost weight I would look pretty sickly. Then when I received the written results upon departure from the hospital the notation for the blood sugar result said “You are at high risk of developing full blown diabetes and it is recommended you consult with the endocrinologist.” That sounds a lot more serious than what the doctor said. Maybe he and the technician should get in synch.

Another issue was that the x-ray technician said my chest x-ray was normal with nothing to note. Every year prior the x-ray techs at other hospitals have always noted a small calcification on one lung that was caused by a childhood disease. So what happened? Did it disappear or did the tech miss it? That doesn’t make me feel confident in their assessment.

Then the bone density results – spine was normal but they said my femoral neck showed signs of bone loss. The doctor said I should eat more calcium and exercise more. Although this is something the doctor would not know it is suspect to me because I consume large amounts of calcium rich foods, particularly non-fat milk, and I get quite a bit of exercise involving lifting heavy objects. Those two things would contribute strongly to having high bone density and increasing either one of those factors would be grossly overdoing it. So I am left wondering about that test result.

During the consultation with the doctor I told him of some back and leg pain I had been experiencing. He said it was probably sciatica and referred me to the bone center. So I went over there and saw the bone doc who did a quick evaluation by asking me to lift my leg, and then sent me for an x-ray and MRI. On the way over to imaging my personal assistant informed me that an x-ray was 700 baht while the MRI would be 13,000 baht. I decided to skip the MRI and shop around later if I really needed it. The x-ray images are feed into the hospital’s database so when I went back to see the bone doc he pulled them up on his computer and showed me that I have some pretty significant disc compression in my lower back. An MRI is needed to image it in detail so I will plan to do that in the near future. For now, the hospital provided me with a CD containing the x-ray images, which makes it handy to shop around for further treatment. The next issue, however, was when I got home and popped the CD into my computer, located the folder with my patient number, and opened it to find that it is empty. A call to the hospital resulted in a lot of scurrying about trying to find someone who could speak English well enough to assist me. Eventually someone came on the line and tried to guide me on how to open a file on a CD. Uh, I don’t need that kind of help. I need the hospital to send me a CD that actually has my x-rays on it. We finally reached agreement on that. I am looking forward to it’s arrival.

So here is how I would summarize my experience with health screening at Phyathai.

Positives

  • Modern equipment
  • Skilled staff
  • Efficient computerized records system
  • Somewhat less expensive than Bumrungrad
  • Helpful personal assistant

Negatives

  • Building and facilities a little worn and cramped
  • Lack of English speaking among most staff
  • Difference between doctor and technician assessment
  • Some questionable recommendations by doctor
  • Blank CD that was supposed to contain my x-rays

The negatives related to the doctor might be just that doctor and not an indication of general quality at Phyathai. But overall I would say that I was not very satisfied and will almost certainly choose a different hospital for next year’s health screening.

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