Medical Issues – Hospitals in Foreign Countries

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Originally published in 2012 / Updated in 2017

I didn’t realize it at the time, but before our journey I was terrified of having to visit a hospital outside Europe. What images do we see of outside-Europe countries when it comes to medical care? Generally horror, or at best, uninviting images. Now, after so many years down the road, I have learned a lesson or two on the subject as we have seen our share of hospitals and specialists.

Those horror stories and images about lack of hygiene, lack of medicines/doctors/hospital beds and what have you, are all true. We have seen that side of the story and we can only conclude that a large part of mankind is terribly bad off when it comes to medical care.

However, there is another side to the story. Most countries we’ve been to also have private hospitals. We’ve been to the cleanest, most professional hospitals, of which we had no idea they existed.

Premises of the hospital in Karachi

Good Experiences With Hospitals in Asia

  • A hospital in Karachi, Pakistan (Agha Khan Hospital), where Coen went for X-rays when his back was troubling him. We were told many embassy people from Pakistan and surrounding countries go here for treatment. Seeing the cleanness and professionalism during our short visit, I can imagine they do.
  • Bangkok Hospital in Thailand, a new hospital with three separate wings for East Asians, Middle East (Muslims) and Europe/US. I stayed in the most luxurious room (I have never seen anything like it in the Netherlands) with a sofa so Coen could spend the night as well, a large flatscreen, fridge, microwave and private bathroom. Daily several doctors dropped by for a check-up and medical attention was professional in every way imaginable.

By the way, I was treated there for malaria as I got malaria in two adjacent countries that lack decent facilities: Laos and Tibet. In both places it wasn’t treated properly and eventually I was evacuated to Bangkok. I haven’t had problems since. I definitely won’t recommend going to hospitals in Laos or Tibet.

There were other hospitals somewhere in between, like in Iran and India. We’ve seen the extremes and everything in between, so to say. I still don’t like going to a hospital but I am not afraid anymore. If I don’t like where I am, I’ll go somewhere else. If I’m too sick to do that by myself (as in the above-mentioned case of malaria), I will call my health insurance.

Bangkok Hospital looks more like a hotel than a hospital, doesn’t it.
Everything in 3 languages
Never seen such a large hospital room in the Netherlands like here in Bangkok.

Experiences with Hospitals and Medical Examinations in South America

  • In Brazil Coen suffered dengue twice. We visited a public hospital in Porto Velho which fits the general image we in the West of foreign hospitals, but he was treated well (he stayed just for the day to run a number of tests). The second was better, in Goias. It was cleaner, quieter as well (as it is a small town) and Coen returned for a couple of days in a row to get an IV drip. In both cases we had the impression the doctors and nurses knew what they were doing and felt safe in their hands.
  • I suffered from dehydration once, in Brazil, due to severe diarrhea. I was treated in a public hospital in Boa Vista. An unfriendly, crowded, place I didn’t like at all but I was treated quickly and properly enough.
  • In Cochabamba (Bolivia) I needed to do a medical check-up and was greatly impressed by the gynecologist’s practice (private) but also the places I subsequently had to go for an ultrasound and blood tests. Highly professional.
  • In Arequipa (Peru) I visited an E.N.T. specialist (in Spanish “Head & Throat” specialist) to check up on a sudden, severe swollen thyroid. We weren’t particularly impressed with the procedures – the word ‘patience’ got a new dimension – but the work was done well by the specialist as well as by the ones who performed ultrasounds and a biopsy. As initially it appeared a tumor and possibly cancer (it wasn’t), I consulted my health insurance in the Netherlands to confirm all results by sending them the physician’s reports and all ultrasound images. I will add that it felt comforting and safe to have this second opinion from specialists in my own country where there were people I could talk with (Skype) in my own language, making sure I understood what was going on and how to interpret the results.

Read More: Medical Issues – Malaria & Dengue

Preparation for a Possible Hospitalization

  • Ask locals about the quality of doctors and hospitals in their city/region. In Brazil, for example, we’ve come across the strange situation where we told that a public hospital, in fact, was more reliable than a private one (the Boa Vista example mentioned above). Since this recommendation came from a doctor, it was trustworthy.
  • Have a lot of patience when going to a hospital (well, that goes for the Netherlands as well). Expect to wait a long time, so I always bring a book.
  • Expect paperwork. Bring a passport, or some identification and expect to have to pay before any check up or surgery is done.
  • Since I have a (serious) medical record, I asked my family doctor to print that history for me, including a description of what surgery I had undergone, with dates and Latin terms for the indication. Fortunately I haven’t needed it, but to have it feels safe to have it in case same symptoms occur.
  • We have a health insurance with worldwide coverage and a 24-hour call center.

What are your experiences? We look forward to hearing other opinions and ideas on the subject. Please share them with us in the comments below so other travelers may benefit from them. Thanks.

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1 thought on “Medical Issues – Hospitals in Foreign Countries”

  1. Ha Karin-Marijke,
    Interessant verhaal, goed om te lezen. Bij welke verzekeringsmaatschappij hebben jullie je verzekerd?
    Hartelijke groet,
    Birgid

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