Most expats face disadvantage when living in Cambodia


This randomly photographed clinic is larger than most. Such clinics can be found all over Phnom Penh.

Not even Cambodians defend the quality of medical care in Cambodia.  The king routinely jets off to China for checkups, and top government officials also head to other countries for the best care.

Ailments that otherwise are treated routinely elsewhere in Asia demand quick flights to Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore.  Examples might include a sinus infection, certain bone fractures and diseases that internists in other nations can easily diagnose.

A related issued is that no one knows how reliable are drugs with foreign labels, and they fill the shelves of numerous pharmacies.

For me, the issue relates to money.  I maintain Medicare and supplementary insurance at considerable expense in the U.S.  When I visit New York City perhaps once a year, I take advantage of them.

I have no insurance outside the country as a consequence of the cost in the many thousands of dollars if I could purchase it all.  Few, if any, companies will insure this expat because of my advanced age.  (Travelers have other options.)

Yet what I spend here is trivial, and treatment for an ordinary ailment can be more than adequate.

When I returned from a trip Down Under with what I was a pretty sure had to be strep throat, I called my Internist friend Gaetan, a Khmer-French physician who was educated in Cambodia and who readily acknowledge’s the country’s healthcare shortcomings.  He examined and agreed with me, prescribing an antibiotic that readily worked.

Total cost: $54.27, which covered both the exam and 15 doses of his recommended medication.

Seeing a European-educated dentist doesn’t mean taking out a loan here.  My excellent cleaning is $40 and x-rays, $5.

It happens that I also needed to see a physician unexpectedly and hurriedly when in Auckland. I recall that the cost of seeing both a gracious nurse and friendly physician, each on a first-name basis, was around $80. The medication prescribed by the latter professional was only $27.81 (though for just three extraordinarily effective tablets.)

Because I felt it desirable to have quality medical care relatively nearby and to have an established relationship with a physician, I took a one-hour flight last year to Bangkok, where I had a leisurely thorough annual exam, several tests and at least one inoculation in a handsome hospital (BNH).  I was treated like a VIP.  Cost: $172.

I look forward to seeing Dr. Irene, a grandmotherly wise physician from Malaysia, again in June.

It will be off to Chang Mai for a few days afterward, with the whole trip costing not even what it would run me for a less comprehensive exam in the States, where Medicare won’t cover annuals.

I should mention that none of the foregoing has surprised me, having learned about the health-care disadvantages of living in Cambodia before I moved here.  Self-insurance has seemed like an acceptable option, even in the event of a medical evacuation, for which the tab would be tens of thousands of dollars.

Tradeoffs, always tradeoffs.


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