By Bahrum Ali
BRUNEI has the potential to be a destination for patients from US medical tourism agency Planet Hospital, which connects clients to hospitals outside the US offering more affordable medical care.
Geoff Moss, Planet Hospital vice president for public relations, said the firm thought of looking at the Sultanate as a destination for Planet Hospital clients after officials read an article in The Brunei Times in October last year that the Jerudong Park Medical Centre (JPMC) is keen to jump on the medical tourism bandwagon.
"Planet Hospital is hoping to form a partnership with the support of the Brunei government and selected hospital in Brunei where we act as the exclusive US medical tourism representative," he said.
He said he and Rudy Rupak, president of Planet Hospital, had discussed the possibility of sending some of their patients to Brunei for first-class medical care.
Moss said that they are hoping to visit Brunei and the JPMC either next month or March to learn about the hospital, meet the doctors and see what type of surgeries the hospital specialises in.
He said Planet Hospital officials would also meet with representatives from the Tourism Bureau, Royal Brunei Airlines, insurance companies and local hotels.
Tan Seang Teak, general manager of JPMC, told The Brunei Times the hospital welcomes the visit from Planet Hospital representatives.
He declined to comment further.
Moss said since Brunei is such a small country, "we are almost certain that most people do not know Brunei is a medical tourism destination".
"It is our goal to help turn Brunei into a leading medical tourism destination for our clients," he said.
He said that since 2002 Planet Hospital has sent over 3,000 patients around the world for medical treatments.
Planet Hospital has opened offices in Australia in conjunction with an existing medical tourism operator that currently sends most of its patients to Thailand and Singapore, he said. "We are very interested in directing these patients to Brunei for treatment," he added.
Moss said as far as he knows, there are no Americans currently coming to Brunei for medical treatment. "Planet Hospital ... can change that. This could help the economy in Brunei."
Planet Hospital has worked with the governments of India, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, South America, Mexico, among others to promote medical tourism.
The firm was set up to help patients get access to more affordable medical care.
"A heart valve replacement in the United States costs anywhere from $125,000 to $160,000. This is not an elective surgery, if you don't have health insurance or the type of money in savings, you will die," Moss said
Because of the costs more and more Americans are becoming medical tourists travelling to countries like India, Costa Rica, Singapore, Belgium, Philippines, and beyond for "red carpet" medical care for the fraction of the cost in the US, he said.
Everyday someone dies because they do not have medical insurance or they cannot financially afford proper medical care. If they are lucky to get into a county or state-run hospital, most likely you will be dead by the time the hospital is able to perform the surgery, he said.
"Americans are very close-minded when it comes to medical care in the United States. Even though our medical system is in a terrible state, Americans still feel that the care in the United States is the best the best in the world," Moss said. "Americans don't think about the billions of people that live in foreign countries and have successful medical procedures done every day. The qualities of medical care some receive in their perspective counties rival the top hospitals in the United States."
Planet Hospital is one of the pioneering organisations of "medical tourism" and has been in business since 2002. Planet Hospital has several US-based physicians on staff full-time to consult with patients.