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    Thailand’s Bumrungrad International Hospital Is Now a Global LGBTQ Medical Tourism Destination

    When a few relatives of San Francisco Bay Times team members recently required extensive healthcare—involving transfers from hospitals, surgeries, and more—we received a crash course on what it takes to survive—or at least try to survive—the health systems here in all respects, including financial. While all of this was going on, we were contacted by Thailand’s Bumrungrad International Hospital, and it was a real eye-opener.

    Many of us previously thought that only certain adventurous people would travel abroad for healthcare, or that such places mostly attracted individuals who were born in those areas before they moved to the Bay Area and then decided to travel back again for major health needs. This turned out to be very provincial, and very wrong, thinking on our part.

    Just as all of the top Bay Area hospitals pull talent from around the globe, so too do well-rated hospitals in other countries. Pay attention to Joint Commission International standards, as JCI-accredited facilities must adhere to best practices in quality and patient safety. One of the most touted hospitals with this accreditation is Bumrungrad International Hospital, which is now among the world’s most popular medical tourism destinations, particularly for LGBTQ individuals and their families.

    To find out why, we recently spent time with Bumrungrad spokesperson Laura Carabello, asking her every question that we could think of concerning this critical, often life-saving, matter.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Tell us a little about Bumrungrad International.

    Laura Carabello: Bumrungrad International is a JCI-accredited, multi-specialty hospital located in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. It is one of the largest private hospitals in Southeast Asia, with 580 beds and over 30 specialty centers. Bumrungrad International offers state-of-the-art diagnostic, therapeutic, and intensive care facilities in a one-stop medical center. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: How old is the hospital?

    Laura Carabello: The hospital was founded in 1980 and has expanded annually, becoming the first hospital in Thailand to receive JCI accreditation.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Is it a full-service hospital?

    Laura Carabello: Yes. Its 19 operating rooms are equipped for most general surgery procedures and surgical specialties. The hospital offers over 80 clinical specialties and subspecialties, including cardiology, oncology, endocrinology (diabetes and metabolism), nephrology (kidneys), neurology, and gastroenterology.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How many patients does Bumrungrad International serve?

    Laura Carabello: Bumrungrad International serves 1.1 million patients annually across all service lines.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How many patients are international?

    Laura Carabello: Over 620,000 international patients from over 190 nations visit Bumrungrad International each year.

    San Francisco Bay Times: We’ve read that Bangkok is a popular LGBT destination. Is that correct, and if so, why do you think that’s the case?

    Laura Carabello: Yes, it is one of the most LGBT-friendly destinations in the world. Bangkok—often referred to as the gayest city in Asia—is unsurprisingly a hugely popular travel destination for LGBT travelers. An extremely tolerant society where gay, lesbian, and transsexual lifestyles are largely accepted as a natural way of life, Bangkok is the epicenter of gay culture in Thailand. Adding to the appeal of a trip to Bangkok is the incredible food, friendliness of the Thai people, ancient temples, raging nightlife, hip shopping destinations, and yes, everything at a very affordable cost compared to Western destinations.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Does Bumrungrad International serve many members of the LGBT community?

    Laura Carabello: Yes. The physician and support staffs are very LGBT-friendly and provide high quality healthcare services to all when needed.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What do you think are the primary barriers that the LGBT community both here and abroad experiences when attempting to access quality medical care?

    Laura Carabello: LGBT patients continue to face stigma and discrimination even though social acceptance is improving. This stigma and discrimination can result in negative experiences that combine with lack of access to culturally affirming and informed health professionals to result in multiple health disparities for LGBT populations.

    For these and other reasons, the LGBT community is finding that Bumrungrad International is an attractive option for accessing comprehensive, high quality and affordable care.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Why do you believe that our community would benefit from getting care at BI?

    Laura Carabello: Our staff at BI provides inclusive, high-quality health services to LGBT people so they can achieve the highest possible level of care.

    There’s also access to more affordable care, particularly when it comes to reproductive medicine and availability of specialty pharmaceuticals at 80% cost savings.

    Expensive medicines and treatments can run as high as $750,000 or more annually in the U.S., causing many Americans to abandon their prescriptions and fail to adhere to treatment. Patients questioning the availability of a particular drug or who want to see if Bumrungrad International can make it available should contact: druginfo@bumrungrad.com

    Additionally, we provide our patients expert care coupled with advanced technology and high success rates. By seeking treatment at Bumrungrad International’s IVF clinic, our patients have several unique advantages such as the following:

    • Obtain all of your fertility services on site—including infertility testing, reproductive surgery, egg retrievals, embryo transfers, and IVF with highly advanced lab.
    • Receive the care you need, no matter how difficult your case—Bumrungrad International’s IVF Clinic is one of the top referral fertility centers in the region.
    • Easy and immediate consultation

    Medical travelers from the U.S. and around the world also now have the option to access a complete annual physical together with comprehensive anti-aging and wellness services in one location and over just two to three days at Bumrungrad International Hospital and its seamlessly integrated subsidiary located on the same campus downtown, VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center (VitalLife).

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please explain more about why the opportunity to travel to Thailand for medical care is so attractive. 

    Laura Carabello: Bangkok is an easy travel destination, leading all cities in overnight visits with close to 1,400–1,500 flights a day going in and out from all parts of the world, making it feasible for people to get their much needed—often life-saving—medications for a relatively low price. Patients and their companions can stay in an affordable hotel, from one night to 30 nights or more, and access treatment at a price that meets their budget.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Give us some perspectives on why the following programs are a great opportunity for the LGBT community:

    • Medication Tourism

    Laura Carabello: With its Medication Tourism program, Bumrungrad International takes the lead in improving access to high quality care and prescriptions at significantly lower costs for complex diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, Hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and orphan/rare diseases. Travel to Thailand to have prescriptions filled and authentic specialty drugs expertly administered at a fraction of the cost resolves a major problem for all patients and U.S.-based self-insured employers who are forced to ration care or deny coverage to keep high specialty drug costs from overrunning their operations.

    • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

    Laura Carabello: We pride ourselves on our expertise, openness, honesty, and personalized care. We understand that dealing with infertility can be very stressful and pledge to be by the side of every patient at every step of the way on their journey to start a family. The Fertility and IVF Clinic (the Clinic), located on the downtown campus of Bumrungrad International, makes it very convenient to get diagnostics, care, and treatment at one site, including infertility testing, reproductive surgery, egg retrievals, embryo transfers, and highly advanced laboratory testing. This includes in vitro fertilization, a method where sperm and egg are combined in the laboratory and, after fertilization, the embryos are then implanted in the cavity of the uterus to cause pregnancy. It also includes intrauterine insemination (IUI), a process that involves placing sperm directly inside a women’s uterus to facilitate fertilization.

    • VitalLife

    Laura Carabello: Together with VitalLife, we have made it convenient and affordable to have a comprehensive yearly medical check-up and also take advantage of:

    • precision medicine through DNA sequencing or genetic testing;
    • the most advanced technologies for hormone, micro-nutrient, and longevity testing;
    • specialized integrative treatments and cutting-edge medicine to improve health, live longer, feel younger, look better—at lower cost without compromising quality or service.

    The LGBT community also finds great value in VitalLife’s hormone screening and replenishing program for identifying key health issues or imbalances, along with solutions to re-establish normal levels. This integrated approach leads to increased energy, sexual health, better sleep, and digestive pain relief.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What are LGBT patients usually seeking when they travel for medical care?

    Laura Carabello: LGBT patients are often seeking a welcoming environment and professionals who are well-informed about LGBT health topics. Taking an open, non-judgmental sexual and social history is key to building trust with LGBT patients. Rather than making assumptions about patients based on appearance or sexual behavior, clinicians should ask open-ended questions, and use the terms and pronouns patients use to describe themselves.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Do you think that most of us are unaware of cost savings from prescription travel? Would the medicines be identical and would there be any risks to buying them abroad?

    Laura Carabello: I don’t think many patients are aware that they can save up to 80 percent on specialty pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and specialized care. We provide authentic, safe, and original brand name medications and treatments for every patient. Patients questioning the availability of a particular drug or who want to see if BIH can make it available should visit the website ( www.medicationtourism.bumrungrad.com ) or contact druginfo@bumrungrad.com

    San Francisco Bay Times: What would you say is the number one concern for LGBT patients traveling for medical care, or in general, when accessing medical care?

    Laura Carabello: All patients want to receive high-quality, cost-effective care. As with all patient populations, in order to effectively serve LGBT patients, medical staff must understand the cultural context of their patients’ lives, modify practice policies and environments to be inclusive, take detailed and non-judgmental histories, stay informed and educated about the health issues most important to their patients, and reflect upon personal attitudes that might prevent them from providing the kind of affirmative care that LGBT people need.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Are patients interested in bringing a travel companion when traveling for medical care? What amenities make BI appealing for both the patient and their companion?

    Laura Carabello: Patients typically have a travel companion when traveling for medical care. Bumrungrad provides concierge services at no charge to help patients arrange travel, and an airport representative office to arrange greetings on arrival, baggage assistance, and transportation to a hotel or the hospital upon request. Patients and their companions can stay in affordable four- and five-star accommodations, from one night to 30 nights or more, and access high quality medical treatment at a price that meets their budget.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What LGBT issues do you believe need to be addressed in the medical industry?

    Laura Carabello: In addition to fostering a welcoming environment and improving education on LGBT-specific health concerns, all medical staff members should be trained to interact respectfully with LGBT patients. Health care settings should develop and prominently display non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression—a requirement for organizations accredited by the Joint Commission.
    Quality of healthcare services is any patients’ primary area of concern. By taking these steps, the medical industry will help ensure that LGBT patients, and indeed all patients, attain the highest possible level of health.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

    Laura Carabello: Bangkok is a great place to visit. From a high level, both Thailand and Bangkok are very exciting destinations with so many interesting things to do.

    For example, a lot of people have a visit to Thailand on their bucket list. Bangkok is a city of about nine million people, and it is very easy to get around.

    There are lots of sites to see—whether it is museums, various temples, shopping the markets or spending an afternoon bathing elephants. In fact, in the last five out of six years, Forbes magazine has awarded Bangkok the number one city in the world for overnight stay based upon volume.

    The majority of Thailand is Buddhist, and one of the things that is very interesting is that it is a very accepting culture and crime is very low. Many police officers and guards in Bangkok don’t really carry firearms and a lot of people here don’t have them either. It’s a very safe city to get around in and very attractive for folks to come and visit.

    For More Information

    Bumrungrad International Hospital

    https://www.bumrungrad.com/specialpages/Adhoc/Dynasty

    VitalLife Integrated Health

    https://www.vitallifeintegratedhealth.com/

    BIH Fertility Center & IVF Clinic

    https://www.bumrungrad.com/en/fertility-ivf-center-bangkok-thailand

    Joint Commission International

    https://www.jointcommissioninternational.org/