It’s not a pleasant topic — medical ailments, doctor’s offices, hospital food — but on Guam, it’s a frequent one. “Have you gone to PI for your executive check-up?” is a common question. In fact, thousands of Guamanians make the pilgrimage to the medical Mecca of Manila. It’s no secret that Guam’s civilian hospital, Guam Memorial, is lacking qualified medical personnel, skilled specialists, and even hospital beds. This makes the 4-hour direct flight from Guam to Manila an appealing option to find all those amenities Guam so sorely lacks. In fact, Take Care Insurance even reimburses up to $500 in travel expenses for qualifying members.
I must admit I was skeptical of all the glowing reviews of medical tourism in Manila, even from my close friends. After all, it’s Manila — the most densely populated city in the world! How could that be a clean, modern, and safe place to have surgery?
I’m glad to report, I was wrong.
Checking into St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City was like checking into a 4-star hotel. But before I get to that, let me guide you through the whole travel process for those seeking treatment in the Philippines.
Getting an Off-Island Referral
It starts with your doctor on Guam. You will first need an off-island referral. Your Guam doctor will likely recommend a doctor at St. Luke’s, as the path between Guam and Manila for medical tourism is well-trodden. The doctor my doctor recommended had also performed surgery on two friends of mine, so with three recommendations, I was feeling confident about her credentials. My insurer received my referral from my doctor and scheduled an appointment with the St. Luke’s doctor. I was on my way…
Finding a Room
…But first I needed a place to stay. St. Luke’s has an answer for that — the condotel! And it’s a good answer. Several floors of the hospital are pay-per-night rooms that more closely resemble hotel rooms than hospital rooms. Our room had two queen beds, a refrigerator, and was spotless and quite comfortable. It was only $55 USD per night. Checking in was just like checking into a hotel. St. Luke’s even arranged a free shuttle to pick us up at the airport. We simply collected our bags at baggage claim, walked down a ramp to the pick-up area, and stood under the letter designating our last name. Within minutes we were in an air conditioned van on a 30-minute ride to the hospital.
St. Luke’s offers room service for guests and hospital meals for patients, but it also contains a handful of bistros and cafes, including Starbucks, Dairy Queen, and Pizza Hut. The cafes serve breakfast, Filipino food, seafood, soups, salads, Chinese, French desserts, and also offer delivery. There are some very decent options for meals and you will feel like you’re in a mall, not a hospital.
The area surrounding the hospital is a fresh, urban development with lots of small restaurants and bars, as well as a Mind Museum, small parks, banks, salons, convenience stores, and specialty shops selling electronics and athletic gear, to name a few. Global City is a planned mixed use area still under development, reminiscent of Dubai or even Dallas. It offers not a glance of what lies only a mile away — a jumbled, overpopulated, poverty-stricken Manila.
Navigating the Hospital
If you are a surgical patient, you will likely be prescribed a gaggle of tests prior to surgical clearance. Not to worry, St. Luke’s is extremely organized and efficient.
Your first visit should be to your insurance company. Select Care and Take Care have offices in the medical center. They will tell you where to go for what. There are two main buildings to navigate — the main hospital and the Medical Arts Building (MAB). You will need to navigate to a different office for each test, whether it be blood, cardio, x-ray, or ECG. Many are located on the second floor of the Medical Arts Building, but others are in doctor’s offices, which have a suite number.
In the pathology and X-ray clinics, for example, you will take a number then watch a TV screen or LED board for your number. You will first consult with a medical professional who will guide you through the process. It is, quite frankly, an amazingly efficient system. I was thoroughly impressed, even though I had to wait for up to an hour during the morning rush hour. St. Luke’s offers free WIFI throughout the facility, though it is a bit slow.
I accomplished six tests/clinics in about a day, that’s how efficient the system is. Bonus: all your test results are available online for you and your doctor within hours, sometimes sooner. Simply register at the St. Luke’s website and you can have the results emailed in one PDF!
At times, you will need to revisit your insurer for authorization for tests prescribed by your doctor. I found all the medical staff and doctors to be friendly, well-trained, and professional.
St. Luke’s Medical Center offers a free shuttle every 30 minutes to the mall. The nearest mall is 15 minutes by car and is a sensory overload of shopping, dining, and entertainment options. It’s filled to the brim on Saturday afternoon and extremely noisy. In center court, you may catch karaoke, Zumba, or a 4-year-old girl dancing suggestively to Gwen Stefani. There are lots of fast food options and a cinema. Outside the mall are fruit and flower stands, salespeople hawking every kind of cooking, fitness, and electronic device, a carousel, and lots of fried food stands.
Security in Manila means armed guards and metal detectors are everywhere. Do not be surprised to hear the click of a lock when you enter a bank as the door closes behind you. You should carry enough cash for the day, but not more. You will need your passport to change money. Keep your belongings with you at all times.
There’s no need to fearful when strolling the streets of Global City at night. As with any place, simply keep your wits about you and enjoy all the creature comforts of medical tourism to Manila.