Photograph by Kues
We all have that one friend who has an uninformed opinion about everything, and supports their every argument by referring to something they saw on a morning show or heard from a friend about their friend.
Much like our opinionated friends, the people we trust the most are only human. It’s difficult to be immune to any of the sensationalised stories presented on TV – even medical researchers, doctors and academics buy into the Nutribullets, Ab Swing Pros and those Dust-collecting Extendable Ladders. But sometimes we let ourselves force silly unsubstantiated opinions on others more than we should, especially when we’re concerned for their safety and well-being. This list is a reminder for both the patients who are simply considering all of their options; and the friends and family who fall into the trap of discounting the quality of anything happening overseas.
The following are the 7 of the most commonly reported statements that friends, families or physicians (i.e. doctors) have told previous patients after the idea of having surgery overseas is mentioned.
(Disclaimer: These are actual statements reported to us by our patients over the last 5 years)
1. “The orthopaedic surgeons in Thailand aren’t properly qualified”
In reality, Thai (and German and British and Australian and American) orthopaedic surgeons are some of the most respected in the world. Just within our network of affiliated surgeons alone, each specialist in Thailand holds a fellowship in at least one of advanced orthopaedics, microsurgery or sports medicine at either the University of London, University of Birmingham, University of Kyoto or John Hopkins University in the USA.
One of our surgeons completed orthopaedic surgical training in Sydney, but perhaps interestingly that’s not featured on his resume.
2. “The hospitals overseas are tiny shacks or are tucked away in shady backstreets”
Most people have at least driven past a private multicentre hospital before, and will have noticed that they’re not exactly the size of a backstreet coffee shop. Our affiliated hospitals in Thailand (and Germany, for that matter) are parts of large medical precincts, each week welcoming thousands of patients from around the world as they wheel in and walk out of their doors, foyers, emergency departments, wards and… many coffee shops.
There are small hospitals and medical centres spread throughout much of Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. If you prefer to have major medical procedures performed in large international hospitals, complete with critical care, emergency and cardiology departments, we would recommend making sure to either check the hospital and ask the important questions directly. Alternatively, if it’s a hospital within the World Orthopaedic network, you can rest assured it far surpasses these basic minimum requirements of our hospital criteria.
3. “Only Western doctors wash their hands properly”
It becomes quite disappointing to have to address any notion that the same preoperative “scrubbing up” procedures aren’t performed in hospitals outside of Australia.
A presumably regretful statement about Thai surgeons not being clean was actually said on live Australian television by a rather upset Orthopaedic Surgeon in late-2016. Thankfully, countless orthopaedic surgeons in Australia and New Zealand know better and have travelled, trained and practiced overseas, with first-hand experience in international hospital environments.
4. “The implants used in Thailand are old or made from cheap metals”
A lot of things are made by Asian manufacturers – that computer in your pocket, for one – but orthopaedic implants really isn’t one of them.
There is one interesting difference between the orthopaedic implants used in Australia and Thailand, but it’s not what you may have heard.
The surgeons in Thailand can and do purchase the absolute best, latest generation implants for their patients at a fraction of the price that they’re sold to Australian hospitals for. Thanks to this economic gradient, local Thai patients are provided orthopaedic surgery without it costing a Western arm and a leg.
In fact, the cost of hip replacement in Australia may be more expensive than hip replacement surgery anywhere else in the world, second only to the USA.
As part of our mandatory assessment process, our affiliated surgeons advise patients of the type, manufacturer and model (detailing materials of each part) for transparent comparison to implants recommended by surgeons in Australia.
5. “There’s no aftercare in Thai hospitals”
In Australia, we’re used to being kicked out of hospital only a few days after surgery. This is almost understandable given the burgeoning waiting lists and limited bed numbers in many local hospitals. Not to mention, many knee surgery and hip replacement patients are back on their feet within a couple of days, regardless of whether surgery is performed in Australia or abroad.
One thing that surprises most patients travelling overseas for surgery is the extended, warm and convenient aftercare provided by true international hospitals.
In Thailand, our patients are requested to stay at our partnered international hospitals for at least 10-14 days following surgery. As an inpatient, patients are provided all of the postoperative care, medications and physiotherapy rehabilitation you would expect from a large private hospital. As a result, patients spend their most critical days and weeks of recovery within metres of support from nursing, medical and rehabilitation staff.
6. “Thai hospitals don’t have acceptable hygiene standards”
The healthcare industry in Thailand tries to turn a blind eye to these sorts of blindly generalised remarks, but many of these wonderfully dedicated physicians are still plainly aware of these unfortunate assumptions.
In actual fact, our partnered international hospitals in Bangkok have less than half the incidence of infection than the global first-world average. And the dreaded methycillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA or Golden Staph) infection is almost unheard of in these hospitals – ironically, MRSA appears to be more prevalent in Western hospitals.
7. “Things can go wrong when you get home and your Australian doctor won’t help you”
Actually this one’s almost half-correct, almost. Unfortunately, no matter where it’s performed, things certainly can go south for patients during and after orthopaedic surgery. But when complications do arise post-operatively in otherwise healthy patients, most often the symptoms (almost exclusively) present themselves in the first few days to a week after surgery.
For those having surgery back in Australia, if you’ve already been marched out of your hospital and sent home, you’ll have to make another appointment with your surgeon and get yourself back to your hospital just to ask a question every time something doesn’t feel right.
For those having surgery in Thailand, if you’re still relaxing in your private hospital suite after surgery (remember, 10-14 days of in-hospital recovery), you’ll still be just a press of a button away from a nurse or doctor addressing even the simplest of concerns.
Rest assured, just like in Australia, in the unlikely event that revision surgery is required due to any fault of the surgeon or implant this is generally offered by your surgeon for without additional medical fees.
As a little thought exercise in addressing this 7th item on our list: Imagine you were to break your leg skiing in Switzerland and a Swiss surgeon pinned your leg back together. Would you expect to have to travel back to Switzerland every time you had a medical question?
No. That’s part of the job of being a doctor anywhere in the world – knowingly treating patients who have been to other doctors before.
Arthroplastic (implant) orthopaedic surgery is one of the handful of surgical fields where the majority of long-term follow-ups are generally deferred to the capable hands of your trusted local general practitioner (GP).
If your GP doesn’t agree to help you anymore because you had surgery performed by someone they haven’t met, or isn’t even willing to discuss any of the legitimate considerations for patients contemplating surgery overseas – it might be time to consider a second opinion.
If you’ve heard any silly throw-away statements about surgery in Thailand, or have any questions about legitimate concerns you’d like us to address about surgery overseas, please feel free to write them in the comments below.