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Vagabond Kids: Health Care on the Road-Malaysia

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Health Care on the Road-Malaysia

I am on the road, as a vagabond mom, without kids or my spouse this week and am suffering from a killer backache. I am not one to normally whinge about these types of things, but this one is so bad I have been unable to sleep and almost thought I needed to check myself into the hospital.
The backache has bugging me for a while, but is getting progressivly worse, so I broke down and went to the doctor while I am here in Kuala Lumpur. But, more on that in a minute
One of the questions family and friends often ask is how do we handle health care while we travel. Do we buy insurance? Do we load up on shots and stash away tons of medicines before we go to each new spot. Generally the answer is no to both. When the kids were younger we tended to travel to less "exotic" places, places where we had either been before or that we knew there were hospitals in the area. Now that they are getting older we are expanding our scope and traveling farther. I do have one caveat. Kiera has allergic induced asthma. We do carry her medicine with us when we travel. Other than that we just wing it. Why? In my 12 years of traveling around Asia I have found the hospitals and doctors to generally be well trained, efficient and very inexpensive.

I will give you two examples: First, my back, here in Kuala Lumpur-

The thing about my sore back is that the pain has been localized and getting worse and stretching, massage, water and enough over the counter painkillers to choke a horse have not stopped the pain. It was time to visit a doctor. The company that I work for happens to have an on-site doctor and I was able to visit her and get some treatment for RM 36.
Now skeptics may say, your cheap doctor visit is because it is a subsidized rate. Well, the truth is because I am a contractor, and not an employee of the Malaysian facility so therefore I pay full market rates. I would have paid the same amount at a clinic almost anywhere in KL. So, the doctor looked at me, gave a good once over and figures I have one of two possible things going on. Either something is wrong with the intercostal region between my ribs, or more seriously I could have Gallstones. Either way, I got a solid checkup, some topical analgesic, some muscle relaxants and pain killers for the total cost of RM 36.00 (That is 10 US) plus photo therapy for 30 minutes. Seriously, the cost for that visit would have been 10X in the US if I had no insurance.

The second example is my daughter's health care in Singapore. Singapore is one of the most expensive areas in the region for health care, but again when compared to US rates, the price is very reasonable. My daughter had an asthma attack about 2 years ago and we could not get her oxygen levels back up to normal rates using her inhalers or medicine. We took her to the emergency room at Singapore University Hospital. She spent 3 hours undergoing treatment in the emergency room (we only had to wait 30 minutes to be seen) and after 3 nebulizer treatments they determined they should admit her overnight, just to be safe. We got a private room so I could sleep with her and the doctor visited her 3 times through out the night.
Even the ER doctor came up to check on her before his shift ended at 3am. The following day, her allergy doctor came and checked on her, as well as the physician on staff that day. She saw 3 doctors, had nurses attending to her all night, had neb treatments every 2 hours for six hours (a total of 6 treatments in all). Total cost of this little overnight visit to the hospital, a private room and emergency room? Three separate doctors? 6 doses of medicine? Thinking because Singapore is a first world country this maybe would be $5000 US? $10,000?

Did I say we were uninsured? My husband was between jobs at the time so we had to pay out of pocket. As non-Singaporean citizens we did not receive a subsidized rate. Total Cost. $600 Singapore dollars. That is around $425.00 US. First class health care at seriously good prices.

Really, we don't tend to worry too much about health care with the kids when we travel. We have heard stories of excellent health care in Bali, Phuket, Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai. We have personally used the system in Taiwan. So, if health care concerns were stopping you before, what's stopping you now?

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