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Bumrungrad Hospital losing it?

Bumrungrad Hospital has been considered the gold standard in medical tourism destination for many years. It’s become quite famous in western countries, even receiving a plum spot on 60 minutes years ago. That spot may have been the tipping point as foreign patients arrived in droves as Thailand medical tourism sky rocketed. Bumrungrad was seeing over 400,000 international patients a year.

Then came 9/11 and an interesting change happened in medical tourism. Many wealthy patients from Arab countries found it difficult or uncomfortable to travel to the U.S. and Europe for medical care. Bumrungrad Hospital seized the opportunity and ramped up its facilities and staff to cater to Arab customers. Medical tourist arrivals in Thailand continued to climb but a very noticeable change has occurred at Bumrungrad and it is being discussed regularly on many of the travel forums.

This writer’s personal experiences with health care at the hospital have always been excellent and have included annual health screenings, dental work and a fairly major surgery. But my last trip to Bumrungrad Hospital was three years ago and it sounds like things may have really gone downhill when it comes to treatment of English-speaking patients. Keep in mind that these are just observations based on posts on travel forums but I have extracted some common themes that keep getting mention.

Poor English spoken by doctors
Now this was really a surprise when I first saw comments about this issue. Bumrungrad has a special international department with a very competent staff that handles assigning staff according to language requirements. And many of the doctors on staff trained and practiced in the U.S. and Europe. So how can there be a problem with doctors speaking English? Well, this issue is being raised rather frequently now by both medical tourists and expats who live in Bangkok so it appears to be a real trend. One expat commented that he went for his annual health screening and then met with the doctor to discuss the results, but he could barely understand the doctor’s English and went away feeling uncomfortable and unhappy with the experience. This was someone who has lived for years in Bangkok and knows the routine so he knows that the hospital really failed when it didn’t have a doctor with decent English skills doing the health screening consultation. In another case a medical tourist who traveled from elsewhere in Asia to have surgery at Bumrungrad Hospital met with three different doctors during the pre-surgery evaluation phase and they all had English skills that were “passable” at best which left him with such lack of confidence that he decided instead to go to BNH for the surgery.

So what has happened here. Has the hospital completely shifted focus to the Arab demographic so much so that they no longer have an adequate number of English speaking doctors on staff? That’s my guess and a few other expats who post regularly on the forums are saying the same thing.

Running up the bill
Make no mistake about it, the big private hospitals in Thailand are for-profit and they attempt to maximize your spend when you visit. When it gets to the point that you can really feel it then they have gone too far. And that is another common theme in recent comments about all the private hospitals. I have experienced it myself at Phyathai and Bangkok Hospital. They are quick to recommend a MRI when an x-ray would do – that’s what they did with me. I haven’t had that feeling at Bumrungrad since I haven’t been there recently but others are saying they really get a sense that quotas must be met and they must get billable procedures on all those expensive pieces of high tech equipment. One person claims that it is actually commission based. I don’t know if that is true but that would be a terrible way to pervert a doctor’s priorities.

Rude treatment by staff
Although mean nurses are the norm back in the states, it is (or was) unheard of to experience that at a major private hospital in Thailand, but that complaint has surfaced several times on forums discussions. It seems that it’s a result of staff that don’t speak English well enough so the patient keeps asking what they mean and it ends up with the staff just acting rude. Perhaps there is a little bit of patient rudeness involved there, you never know. But let me tell you a little incident that happened during my last trip to Bumrungrad for a health screening three years ago. I went with my wife and elderly mother-in-law and we all had the exam followed by the consultation with the doctor. When my mother-in-law met with the doctor the doctor said “Aren’t you embarrassed coming here with him?”, referring to me who had led my mother-in-law to the consultation room. Now is that a great big WTF or what? What was the doctor thinking, that I was some young gigolo with this late 70’s woman? And even if that was the case what kind of amazingly rude and inappropriate comment was that?

Perhaps this is the direction that Bumrungrad Hospital has chosen, to focus on a new demographic, and perhaps that makes business sense. I just wonder if management realize the damage being done to the hospital’s reputation by making English-speaking expats unhappy. You see, expats live in Thailand and use the private hospitals regularly so their opinions are informed, detailed and noticed by medical tourists. When they feel they are being given poor care or the bum’s rush that experience makes it to the internet. And as they say, what happens in Google stays in Google, so those bad experiences will turn in to lost patients for years.

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