Medical Leave

by Greg Lindsay ,  Fast Company | 2008-04-18

Your next heart surgery could well be in Bangkok -- but don't worry, it'll be "in network." How your health care is taking wing ...


"This doesn't look like a hospital," says Ruben Toral, showing me around. "It feels more like a hotel or an upscale mall." After studying the gleaming lobby of Bumrungrad International for a minute or two, I'm inclined to agree. Americans in shorts recline across from Arab couples in flowing white dishdashas and black abayas, the latter accessorized with designer handbags and sunglasses. We're in Bangkok in August, when even the asphalt is overripe and malodorous, but the only scent inside is a faint whiff of espresso from the Starbucks in the corner.


Toral is responsible for luring that cosmopolitan clientele here, thousands of miles from home, for a knee replacement or a triple bypass or even just a checkup. Before he arrived in 2001 as Bumrungrad's marketing director, "we were a Thai hospital serving a Thai community," he says. "Now we're an international hospital that just happens to be in Thailand."


Toral himself just happens to be a dead ringer for George Clooney, and he tells his story in similarly seductive tones. He's still amazed, seven years later, that folks who have never set foot on a plane, let alone owned a passport, will log a 24-hour flight -- in coach! -- to put themselves in the care of a hospital whose name they can't even pronounce. Overseas patients have more than doubled on his watch, to 430,000 in 2006, generating the majority of the privately owned hospital's revenue. "It's the high-school-cafeteria person," Toral says. "The independent businessman, the doctor, the lawyer. They tell me, 'We did the math. We can't afford to pay $1,200 for insurance every month."



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