Health check under palm trees – Saving money as a medical tourist
When your age crosses the 35 year line, you slowly enter a phase in your life, where you not only get older but you also begin feeling the aging process.
In my case the main symptoms are longer regeneration times after boxing sessions or hikes (why does the second day always hurt the most), minor inflammatory issues (plantar fasciitis, Tendinitis) and a changing metabolism (an issue that deserve its very own life-sparring session).
This smaller issues are serving as a regular reminder to take care of myself, so I started to do more or less regular health check-ups. I did my first full check-up in 2011, the second one last year and wanted to do a check-up in 2015 too.
Partly because I am a little hypochondriac, partly because I am a quantified self nut, I opted for both of my past check-ups for the “Noble Health Assessment” at a private Hong Kong health provider.
The package set me back approx. HK$ 4,200 (US$ 540) and included the following:
- Physical check-up and doctor consultation
- Complete blood picture
- Lipid Profile (Cholesterol)
- Fasting Glucose test and oral glucose tolerance test
- Renal Function Test (Kidney test based on urine test)
- Liver Function Test (part of blood and urine test)
- Stool Occult blood test
- Cancer markers T4, TSH and PSA (part of blood test)
- Hepatitis A & B antibody screening (part of blood test)
- Resting ECG
- Chest X-Ray
- Ultra sound of upper abdomen
The experience of the two health checks in Hong Kong was quite pleasant. Staff was professional, the waiting time minimal and the report was fairly detailed.
However US$ 540 is a decent investment for an annual check-up, so knowing that I would be in Penang, Malaysia in late November (my annual half Marathon), I decided to check the options of doing my health check during my holiday.
I am quite often in Malaysia, so I knew that the general costs of living in the country and especially the price level in the service industry is much lower than in Hong Kong. In addition to the already lower price level, the Malaysian Ringgit (RM) lost almost 20 % towards the US$ over the past 12 months.
Another advantage of Malaysia as destination for a medical tourist is, that the level of English is pretty high. English is not only one of the official languages in Malaysia, it also often the language of choice between ethnic Malay, Chinese and Indian.
Dedicated websites such as the hospital overview on Penang Travel tips indicated that I was not the only one, seeking the opportunity to reduce my medical bill through some “x-rays under palm trees”. According to the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council, a number of 882,000 medical tourists came in 2014 for treatment to Malaysia. This makes Malaysia one of the world’s largest destinations for medical treatment abroad.
A quick google research (Penang, health-check) produced a whole range of private hospitals that advertised reasonably priced health check-ups, my favorites among them: Gleneagles Penang, Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre and Penang Island Hospital.
After some research I decided for the latter. Not only was I familiar with the location, it is also looked the most modern among the Penang hospitals with fairly state of the art equipment and offered several tests as optional bonus to the standard package.
The iHealth Screening Package offered at the Penang Island Hospital pretty much contained the same testing scope than my Hong Kong check-up package. Only the glucose tolerance test, micro albumin and some cancer markers were missing, while a Syphilis test and a meal voucher for the coffee shop were thrown in additional.
The price for that standard package was RM 676, or US$ 160. A price saving of 70% compared to Hong Kong definitely was a great deal.
In my enthusiasm I added a bunch of optional tests:
- Treadmill Stress Test (RM 200 / US$ 47)
- Male Cancer Profile (RM 252 / US$ 59)
- H. Pylori Breath Test (RM 168 / US$ 40)
- Ultrasound of Pelvis (RM 50 / US$ 11.8)
- Dexa Bone Densitity Scan (sadly not body fat) (RM 128 / US$ 30)
- Micro albumin /creatinine ratio (RM 22 / US$ 6.2)
At the end the full package set me back RM 1.496 or US$ 353, still significantly less than the package in Hong Kong, with a much wider test scope.
The process of the check-up was fairly smooth. I made an appointment via email, no credit card payment was needed.
On the day of the testing there was a fairly quick registration process at the ground floor, before proceeding to the iHealth Centre in the second floor.
The iHealth Centre itself would benefit from a renovation. Compared to the bright and modern design of the rest of the hospital, the health check department comes across a bit dark and worn down.
Staff however was extremely friendly, helpful and professional. I received a route card for the different tests and was guided through the different departments by one of the iHealth Centre nurses.
Waiting times were minimal, except a 20 minutes wait at the imaging department.
The whole massive test program took around 3.5 hours (8.30 to 12). I paid with credit card, just before leaving the hospital. I conducted the tests on a Saturday and could return on the Monday after to receive the results.
Again, the process was fairly professional. I arrived within the advised two hour time frame, proceeded to the central registration counter where I received a number for the outpatient cleaning. There I waited just around 10 minutes, before my consultation with the doctor (you can choose your doctor during the registration process on the test day). After getting the results explained I waited another 10 minutes to receive all reports bound in a file, including the imagery on DVD.
My first experience with medical tourism was definitely a very satisfying one. One top my reports came out fairly clean, which is always a great relief.
How about you? Did you ever consider going abroad for a medical treatment or check-up?