Tales from the Waiting Room: San Francisco and Bangkok: Audio



Last month I visited doctors twice: in San Francisco to have a spot of sun damage checked, and in Bangkok for a physical. As Mrs. Kuchenbecker, my sixth grade teacher said, “Let us compare und contrast.”

I make an appointment, the doctor will see me in about a month. I show up on time, fill out forms and, clutching my Ganesha (the Hindu elephant god associated with overcoming obstacles), am waterboarded by a nurse-enforcer who finally establishes my financial worthiness. I sit down. Another patient in the waiting room stands up, exclaims, “I don’t have time for this,” and leaves.

After 45 minutes I am ushered into Doctor’s room (as in “Doctor will see you,” as if his mother had ordained his profession at birth and named him Doctor). There I wait for another half hour, poring over an ancient copy of Forbes.

The doctor arrives and whacks off my wart while gushing about the wonders of Luang Prabang (he had no idea what I did for a living and that I had been to Luang Prabang). I tell him I was heading for Sri Lanka.

“That’s really far,” he says. “Are you flying…up front?”

“No,” I reply, suspicious that he was sizing up my cash position. “We could buy a new Subaru for the cost of that.”

A month later, after a follow up visit, I receive a spreadsheet from my health insurance company that would challenge a Hassidic numerologist, plus a bill from Doctor for $780.


Just before leaving I make an appointment by email for a full Executive Health Screening at Thailand’s Bumrungrad International Hospital . Within minutes I am slotted for the day after I arrive, at the time I request, and am assigned a doctor Phanchet (even though I could have made a choice). I see by his online CV that he is an Australia-trained specialist in preventive medicine and former med school professor.

I show up at 9AM, fill out the forms, pay US$425 by credit card and have a 15 minute consultation with Dr. Phanchet, a friendly no-nonsense Thai who speaks perfect English, before heading off on an all-you-can-eat buffet of medical tests: X-rays, sonograms performed by a doctor who hummed show tunes, (“Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Sound of Music”), stress and lab tests, an eye exam. From each station, managed by a real doctor, I am led to the next by a smartly-dressed nurse. At each station my health profile in progress is displayed on a flat panel video monitor, each doctor adding to it.

Four hours later Dr Phanchet goes over each test, explaining where I stand and what to do to stay healthy (the lab tests, sonograms and x-rays had already been processed). I am presented with a folder with my medical records. Two days later I get a summary of conclusions and all of my records by email.

My wife Pat went through a similar program, including a sonogram procedure for which she had once been billed $2 thousand in the US. Here it was included in the checkup.

This would have taken us two weeks in the US, arranging appointments and visiting various specialists and labs. Pat wanted to follow up on a couple of things. She, on the spot, made appointments with two specialists for the afternoon. Cost: about US$45 per visit.

Bumrungrad is the most famous medical tourism destination in the world, but there are other smaller facilities (which friends in Bangkok prefer) such as Bangkok Nursing Home. Bumrungrad’s lobby is populated by French, Germans, Americans, Thais, Chinese, Sheiks in flowing robes, bruised women recovering from eye and nose jobs. For longer treatments the hospital has decent, reasonably priced apartments on the premises, but if you really want to splurge, there are four and five star hotels in the neighborhood. We stayed at a new Sofitel, within walking distance, where we got a junior suite for $100 a night. Even Doctor might appreciate that.