Why do you have headaches all the time? Why does your lower back hurt all the time? Why is it so hard to fall asleep at night? These are questions that you have probably asked yourself more than a couple of times now, to no avail. Although we can always assume causes, it is still more satisfying to get to the bottom of things and find out what’s been causing all these health issues. The most effective way to finding out the root cause is a visit to the doctor’s office.
One of the most common questions I always receive by e-mail is what hospital I’m using. If that’s all you want to know – that’s easy. The hospital is called Bumrungrad International Hospital. Their prices are higher than most hospitals in Thailand but they offer great value for money, they have the shortest wait times and their staff speak excellent English.
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Why are Health Checkups Important?
Like most things that age with time, the human body is a complex system that goes through wear and tear. As we age more, we become less supple and become more prone to sickness and pains here and there.
Instead of waiting for you to get seriously sick, having a regular health checkup allows you to find out your body’s weak spots, then regulate and restore it to a healthier state. Whether it’s blood pressure that’s too high or blood sugar that’s too low, you can find out what’s causing those pesky body aches and pains, once and for all.
Health checkups in Thailand are one of the cheapest in the world with package prices starting at 3,700 baht. That already includes all the basic tests that you need such as the Body Mass Index (BMI), blood work, cholesterol checks, and so much more. With the average cost of a twenty-three minute preventive exam in the US already at 4,060 baht, it is easy to see why foreigners would rather schedule for a more exhaustive health checkup in Thailand.
Aside from the affordable prices, the reason why medical tourism is thriving in Thailand is because of the convenience. Patients can easily find hospitals online, compare services and prices, and make an appointment in just a few minutes. Waiting time is comparably short and tests are usually completed in a few hours. A full-service health checkup can be finished in a day, allowing you to easily schedule a hospital visit without messing up your Thailand vacation itinerary.
Expats usually find to their amazement how health checkups are a more pleasing experience in Thailand compared to the one they have grown used to at home. With English speaking medical staff, walking inside an international hospital is like stepping into a luxurious five-star hotel. With first-class health amenities, gone are the antiseptic odors, severe lighting, and utilitarian facilities.
When to do a Medical Checkup
Health checkups can start while you’re in your early twenties and thirties. Although you may feel like there’s no reason to since you feel like you’re in the prime of your life, you have the likelihood of putting your health at the back of your mind–exactly why you should do it. With critical information about your health status, you and your doctor can come up with the right strategy to prevent health issues in the future.
Those in their forties may be so distracted with career and family that health ends up being placed on the back burner. It is important that the regular checks you have had before should be continued at this age, along with other check-ups, such as eye checks and assessments for development of chronic ailments.
As you ease into the golden years of your fifties, your health checkups should be preventative in nature. You can expect more tests will be added such as bone density scans, fecal occult blood tests, hearing assessments, and many others. Cliche as it may sound but an ounce of prevention is still worth more than a pound of cure. Health checkups are regularly mandatory for applying for health insurance when you are in this age.
How often you should do your health checkups differ according to age, as follows:
✓ For twenties and below–once every two to three years
✓ For thirties–once every one to three years
✓ Over forties–once a year
If you smoke, drink, have hereditary health conditions, or are considered to possess any risk factors, your physician may recommend for you to come in more often. And if you’re someone with a chronic condition, you may need to work with your physician to customize a personal checkup schedule.
Finding the right program or knowing which part of your body should be checked may seem overwhelming, but Bumrungrad has an online tool that ensures you are taking the right program that is tailored to your needs. Click here for a personalized checkup package quiz. It is a short questionnaire that allows the medical staff to create a personal health profile for you.
When you have your checkup scheduled, here are a few things you need to do to get ready for the next day’s checkup:
✓ Get plenty of rest–eight hours of sleep is imperative. Sometimes, not having enough sleep can affect the results for tests in body temperature, blood pressure, and heartbeat.
✓ Wear comfortable clothing that allows access to upper arms for the blood pressure tests.
✓ Do not eat or drink eight to ten hours prior to the checkup. However, you may have a sip of water occasionally to keep dehydration at bay.
✓ Do not consume alcohol within twenty-four of your checkup checkup. This may result in an abnormal result in your renal ammonia tests. You will also need to inform your physician if you have had alcohol in the last few months.
✓ Continue your medications in hypertension as prescribed by the doctor.
✓ Inform your physician if you have a chronic illness or other health problems. It will help your doctor significantly if you can bring test results or medical reports during the diagnosis.
✓ For women, do not schedule a checkup seven days before or after your menstrual period. If you really need to proceed with the checkup while on your period, inform the nurse so they can cancel the urine test, which could have an abnormal result.
✓ Digital mammograms should also be avoided for women who are menstruating as breast swelling and tenderness is fairly common during such times.
✓ Inform the nurses if you are pregnant so they can cancel the x-ray exams.
Depending on where you live, there are many medical facilities that provide health checkups. Some of the government hospitals that offer such are King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Siriraj Hospital, and Ramathibodi Hospital.
Although the prices are cheaper, keep in mind that government hospitals tend to be overcrowded, the entire process which normally takes two to three hours in a private hospital will take much longer to complete. You also need to come earlier in the morning since longer queues are the norm. And you won’t get to have as much time to confer with your physician as you like. These are some of the reasons why most expats prefer having their health checkup in a private hospital.
For private hospitals,there are many choices for those who live in the Sukhumvit area: Bangkok Hospital, Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital, Prommitr Hospital, BBH Hospital, Sukhumvit Hospital, and Bumrungrad International Hospital are just some of the many.
If you ask Karsten, the founder of Thailand Starter Kit, he’ll tell you that Bumrungrad offers great value for the money. Even if prices tend to be a bit higher than some other hospitals, the overall experience is second-to-none.
Here’s a few more reasons Karsten goes to Bumrungrad:
- They have the shortest wait times he’s ever experience at any hospital, anywhere in the world.
- They do everything in-house and will get you to a specialist on the same day.
- Karsten’s friends from the US and Germany, who are doctors, both recommend and use the hospital themselves.
- They where able to diagnose a problem Karsten had that was misdiagnosed by other private hospitals in Bangkok.
If you, too, would like to schedule your health checkup at Bumrungrad, check out their website here.
Those who reside in Samutprakarn area can choose from Thainakarin Hospital, Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital, and Sikarin Hospital. Regardless of where you are, you are bound to find a private hospital where you can have your health checkup done.
Private hospitals in Thailand mostly provide first-class services and a majority of their physicians have acquired their medical degrees abroad. Therefore, you can most often expect to converse with one that can speak fluent English and explain your health conditions comprehensively. Although the rates are more expensive than government hospitals, the facilities in a private hospital are comparatively more up-to-date and you can expect your health checkup to be a quicker process.
There are also clinics that provide health checkups such as MedConsult in Thong Lo area and Global Doctor Thailand in Silom Road. They are more focused on traveler health and can provide medical services while you’re away from home.
Common Packages and Cost
The most common tests included in a health check-up are blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels, body mass index, complete blood count, kidney function, liver function, urinalysis, chest X-ray, and electrocardiogram. For women, they have an option to include Pap tests and mammogram, while testicular exams are an option for men.
Here is a comparison of the most basic packages from three of the most preferred hospitals among expats:
|Common Tests||Bumrungrad Hospital||Bangkok Hospital||Samitivej Hospitals|
|Vital signs, BMI||✓||✓||✓|
|Complete Blood Count||✓||✓||✓|
|Fasting Blood Sugar||✓||✓||✓|
|Lipid Profile: Cholesterol, HDL, LDL, Triglyceride||✓||✓||✓|
|Kidney Function: Creatinine||✓||✓||✓|
|Kidney Function: BUN||×||✓||×|
|Liver Function: SGOT |
(AST) and SGPT
|Stool Exam with Occult Blood||✓||✓||×|
|PAP Smear and Pelvic |
Exam (Female Only)
|5,670 baht||3,700 baht||3,900 baht|
Depending on your age, other tests may be added such as eye checks, cervical cancer screening, prostate checks, hearing tests, abdominal ultrasound, lumbar hip tests, carotid Doppler, bone density scans, many others.
Prices can range from 3,700 baht to 39,171 baht depending on the type of health check-ups that you require. And it can be higher if you are old.
The most expensive program thus far is a comprehensive exam called Holistic Female offered by Bumrungrad Hospital that includes crucial tests that will allow for prevention of ailments most common to women. In addition to the tests in the most common package above, it will also include:
✓ Hb A1 C Blood Test
✓ Kidney Function
✓ Liver Functions
• Total Bilirubin, Albumin, Globulin
• Direct Bilirubin, Total Protein
• Gamma GT
✓ Thyroid Panel: TSH and Free T4
✓ Hepatitis Screening
• HBsAg and HBsAb
• Anti HCV
✓ Tumor Markers
• CEA for GI Cancer
• AFP for Liver Cancer
✓ Exercise Stress Test
✓ Ultrasound Whole Abdomen
✓ Digital Mammogram with Ultrasound Breast
✓ Vitamin B12
✓ 25-OH-Vitamins D3/D2 by LC-MS/MS
✓ Bone Density L-Spine and Hip
✓ Ankle Brachial Index (ABI)
✓ Dilated Eye Exam (Acuity, Tonometry, OCT, and Fundus) in the Eye Center
Most basic programs will require a couple of hours, but programs with more tests may require four to six hours.
Choosing Your Package
Hospitals in Thailand have an extensive array of choices when it comes to health checkups. The most basic programs (similar to the ones in the table above) offered by hospitals are most commonly known as the annual checkup. These usually last two to three hours, recommended for those thirty to forty years old, and are about 3,070 baht to 5,115 baht.
The next level is the Executive Checkup that has more tests such as the ALP test for liver function, EKG, ultrasound, eye screening, hearing screening, tumor marker tests, and more. These usually lasts three to four hours, recommended for thirty to fifty years old, and costs 11,500 baht to 21,700 baht.
For those over fifty years old, there are packages that are sometimes called Comprehensive, Comprehensive Advanced, Ultimate Checkup, Premium Life Program and so and so. Age groupings and package names are different at each hospitals and you need to consult with the medical staff which package to get.
These packages more suitable to senior citizens and are about four to eight hours long and cost somewhere between 23,900 baht and 38,750 baht. These packages will include tests that are more indicative of diseases such as Gamma GT, Thyroid panels, Hepatitis screening, tumor markers, eye exam, Vitamin B12 and Calcium deficiency, electrolytes exam, bone density L-Spine and Hip, Ankle Brachial Index, and Microalbuminaria, and so much more.
Some hospitals also offer Prenuptial Programs which are for those looking forward to tie the knot and their tests include Hepatitis Screening, ABO Grouping and Rh Group, Venereal disease, Anti HIV, Hemoglobin Typing, and Rubella IgG. The prices are from 4,620 baht to 5,360 baht.
What Your Results Mean
After your health check-up, the physician will confer with you to interpret your test results. You will be given a medical report book with all the results as well. Your physician will usually ask about your chronic diseases if you have any, family history, and your lifestyle. Be prepared to have this information on hand as it is very helpful for your physician to interpret the test results.
Your lab test results may come back as positive, negative, or inconclusive. A positive test result means that a certain indicator for a health condition is present or higher/lower than normal. A negative result may mean a substance was not found or it is present in a normal amount. Inconclusive tests are, as the name implies, those that are neither positive or negative, or that the amount is clear enough to indicate normal levels or not.
Depending on what is tested for, a positive is a good thing if your physician is testing for presence of antibodies, but it’s bad if it indicates presence of the HIV virus.
When it comes to blood work, there are healthy thresholds where you can’t go above or below, depending on your age, gender, and other traits. These are called reference ranges and they were acquired by testing large groups. These are true for tests such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and other chemicals in the body.
A normal blood pressure is within the range of 90/60 and 120/80. Anywhere below that is hypotensive and higher is hypertensive.
Cholesterol comes in three categories: total, LDL, or bad cholesterol, and HDL, or good cholesterol. Normal levels vary according to age. But generally for adults, total cholesterol levels are ideally less than 200 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL. LDL cholesterol levels should not be higher than 100 mg/dL, while HDL levels should be kept high, with optimal levels at 60 mg/dL or higher.
Follow Up Treatments
Your physician will usually recommend doing exercise or diet changes or additional lab tests for severely critical areas of the tests. In the end, you can elect to take more tests right there and then or you can waive them and take your medical concern to a specialist of your own choosing. Usually, doctors can also refer you to a specialist that they know if you don’t have one. No matter what your health checkup’s result may be, having a regular one is a good way to identify ailments before they become bigger problems.
No matter what your health condition, age, or gender, routine checkups help you foster a long-lasting relationship with your physician. Regular checkups are also helpful in determining your personal health baseline. Also, by having regular checkups you can easily assess your best screening schedule and frequency.
Each one of us is unique and one person’s normal test results may not be necessarily normal to another. With an established benchmark for blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels, you and your physician can quickly pinpoint risky areas even before the symptoms in your body show up.
If you would like to find out which hospital Karsten uses, click here
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