Now I Understand Medical Tourism

Island Hospital

Medical Tourism is a huge industry.  It’s resposible for billions of dollars a year in revenue as people travel across boarders to get medical procedures done.  It’s something I was aware of, but never understood why someone would travel from a developed country to the third world in order to get an important operation done.  Wouldn’t they be risking their lives in some dingy operating room with doctors poking and prodding them trying to figure out how to fix them before they bled out?  Well, now I get it.

IMG_8445After several days of a strange soreness in my throat, we called our insurance company and they gave us the name of a hospital to go to.  Island Hospital.  I was imagining sand floors and nurses in grass skirts, but the truth, while less dramatic, was much more comforting.  It was a large medical center, which contained it’s own ER, Operating rooms, Specialists, Top of the line imaging equipment, in-house lab, and hundreds of patient beds.  I’d been to many clinics in Japan that offer far less.

I was quickly registered, and then taken to see an Endocrinologist.  This being Malaysia, all of the staff and nurses spoke fantastic English, which made the whole process as stressless as possible.  I was still nervous about the level of care I would receive until I met the doctor.  Trained in the UK, and fully fluent in English, he clearly knew what he was talking about, which is something severly lacking among Japanese doctors.  He confirmed that my thyroid was swollen, sent me to get an ultrasound, and then took a fine needle biopsy to try and rule out cancer.  Luckily, it came back negative.  However, since we were going to be traveling for the next 9 months, he suggested that I might want to have half of it taken out as we never know when it might act up again and the next time we might not be in such a good facility.

Dr. Badrul is the bestI then discussed with the surgeon, who not only showed mastery of knowledge and spoke fluent English, he was just a great person.  He talked with us for almost an hour, answering our questions, showing us pictures of what to expect, and generally keeping us calm and assured and never once trying to usher us on even though I know he was very busy.  That’s when we decided it would be best to go ahead and get the procedure done while we knew we were in a good place.

Two days later, we were back at the hospital, and they prepped me for surgery.  Everyone was extremely friendly and courteous, and the guy who drew my blood was clearly an expert (I generally hate getting blood drawn).  4 different people asked me about 6 times to confirm what my name was and what procedure  was getting done.  At first I thought it might just be because of clerical error, but it became clear this was a safeguard to make sure they didn’t confuse the right half of my thyroid with the right half of my legs.  That’s something I can get behind.  I was wheeled into the operating room, and while I was slightly disconcerted that the last song I heard before going under was “Girl I Want to Make You Sweat”, I knew I was in good hands.

IMG_7871IMG_7843Recovery, though there were difficult times, like swallowing, was made much easier by the responsive and friendly nurses who tended me as I was on the mend.  The doctor also came once a day to see how I was doing and to check up on how my(/his) wound was healing.  The fact that this procedure is done as outpatient surgery in the States is pretty amazing, because the first couple of days were definitely a bit tough.  Luckily, with all of the support, it went by quickly and uneventfully.  The food wasn’t half bad either!

Having seen both the US medical system as well as the Japanese medical system, I can assure you that the level of care I received in Island Hospital in Malaysia was just as good as what I would get in the US, and, in my opinion, better than what you would get in Japan.  Japan’s system is based on the idea that the doctor always knows best and shouldn’t be questioned, nor should he have to explain himself to his lowly patient.  As an American who likes to be in control of his body, this doesn’t work for me.  Luckily, the docs in Malaysia were trained in the west (the UK in the case of my doctors), which means they are steeped in the tradition of educating patients and giving advice, drawbacks, and information, while leaving the ultimate decision up to the patient.  It was comforting to be back in that ethos.

There were also people from other nearby countries going to the same hospital for medical procedures.  People from Indonesia, Thailand, and the like, would  come to Island Hospital to get the kind of medical care that might be absent in their own country.  It also makes sense for Americans, coming to Malaysia to get the same class of care at a fraction of the price.  In the states, that type of surgery would have cost 10 times what it was in Malaysia, for the same level of care.  I quickly started to see why so many people are willing to travel for their procedures.  Great care, expert doctors, at a fraction of the cost.  Seems like a no brainer.  So next time you feel a strange ache or pain, maybe it’s time to visit Malaysia.

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Posted on by Aaron in Aaron's Blog

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