Andrea Howton, COO, Vitallife Scientific Wellness Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital

by Expat Life

With more than 20 years of marketing and senior management experience in the health, wellness, and aesthetic industries, Andrea brings unique insight and expertise to her position as Chief Operating Officer of Vitallife Scientific Wellness Center and Esperance Integrative Cancer Center. In her varied and successful career as a business development expert, she has created visionary strategies and practical, effective solutions to either launch or re-energise aesthetic and medical facilities all over the world. She understands the needs of aesthetic and wellness businesses, their clients, and the best ways to grow the bottom-line while enhancing patient satisfaction. At VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center, Andrea has been responsible for market development in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, direct and indirect sales channel management, product and service development and strategic marketing. She joined VitalLife as a consultant in 2018 and assumed responsibilities as Chief Operating Officer in 2019. Her practical knowledge and engaging communication style make her a sought-after speaker and educator at industry conferences.VitaLife

She says “Self-determined people want to be in charge of their own health and enjoy the life enhancing benefits that modern medicine has to offer. It is our mission to provide you with the knowledge and the instruments to prevent nature from being the determining factor on how long, how active and how enjoyable your life will be. Everything we offer is based on scientific substance, full personalisation and a trustworthy partnership”.

Can you give us a bit of background on VitalLife?

VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center was founded 18 years ago and, over the years, has evolved into Thailand’s premier integrative wellness, cancer and aesthetic centre. It is a subsidiary of the award-winning Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of the leading private hospitals in the world. Bumrungrad’s world-class facility and technologies focus on medical emergencies, acute infections and trauma. VitalLife emphasises prevention and the integrative treatment of chronic diseases such a gut problems, diabetes, or stress-related disorders. Our physicians dig right down to the molecular level to figure out what is the cause of your ‘disease’. It’s not unusual for our physicians to spend an hour or more with patients, listening to their histories, doing the detective work, asking questions, and examining the genetic, environmental, and lifestyle patterns that effect health. They then design unique, personalised healing plans to correct imbalances early so they don’t develop into more serious conditions.

Explain to our readers why it’s worthwhile for people from all over the world to travel for treatment?

I think there are four main reasons: cost, technology, customer service and integrated medical services. For many people overseas it is fear of the unknown that holds them back from seeking medical care overseas. But they are really missing out on world-class healthcare service and medications that are only a fraction of the their home country cost. When I first arrived on the Bumrungrad campus, I was in awe of the cutting-edge technologies and range of services and treatments available here. In many instances we are the first and only facility in Asia offering these technologies. That is why our facility attracts people from all over the world and we have become experts in medical tourism.

We understand that distance and language are a concern, which is why we have created a kind of ‘buddy system’. A Medical Concierge who speaks your language will be at your side throughout your whole journey. Before your arrival, he or she will assist with travel arrangements, organise accommodation, gather your medical records, and schedule your appointments. During your stay in Bangkok, your ‘buddy’ is always available to assist, whether you want to do some sightseeing, shopping or need an interpreter. Our executive lounge allows you to relax between appointments or to check e-mails. VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center and Bumrungrad Hospital are located on the same campus. This allows for a seamless integration between acute care and Vitallife’s preventive, functional medicine approach. This means our patients really get the best of both worlds.

Describe this integrative care model in greater detail.

Let’s take knee or hip replacements, for instance. Our integrative approach is really a complete care model from pre- to post-surgery. Typically, the pre-surgical work-up includes a dental check to identify any hidden infection, a heart and general medical check-up. Our complete care model takes this a step further and looks at additional markers that impact surgery outcome and recovery. We analyse your hormone levels because optimal balance will ensure bone health and faster healing. We look at levels of heavy metal accumulation in your body. Metals like cadmium, for instance, can cause brittle bones. To promote faster healing we check and, if needed, bolster a patient’s micronutrient levels. Of course, we also discuss pre-and post-surgery diet and stress reduction techniques and, also very important, the need to stop smoking. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, which results in slower bone and tissue healing.

Can you describe the typical patient? Are they middle aged, young, old? What are they looking for?

We see patients of all nationalities between 30 and 90 years of age. What do they have in common? They want quality of life, increased energy and clarity of mind, optimal weight and a strong immune system. Many have seen their parents decline under the burden of multiple chronic diseases and they don’t want to follow the same path. They don’t want to worry about bladder leakage. They don’t want to end up with dementia or a shoe box full of medications.  They understand that prevention means they must be proactive. Other patients already have symptoms of ‘disease’ like achy joints, gas and bloating, skin rashes or trouble keeping the weight off. There may be no clear disease label, but they know that something is ‘off’ and they refuse to accept these symptoms as part of ‘getting older’. We also see more and more young professionals in their 30s. They operate in a high stress world, don’t get enough sleep, don’t eat properly, and are realising that they won’t be able to keep it up without help. We tell them: “We cannot take your stressors away, but we can help fortify your body to better deal with them.”

Are there more men than women — or equal?

Women are often the forerunners. I think it’s because we are typically more open to talk about health issues with each other. Without too much generalisation, men are much more hesitant to talk about their medical issues and avoid going to the doctor.  This means, sometimes the women drag in the men and sometimes the men come in and bring their wives. Having said that, our patient mix is about 60% women and 40% men. 

Do people come more than once a year?

The number of visits depends upon a patient’s health concerns, age, health history and if they are local or from overseas. If you are in your 30s, a health check-up once every 1-2 years may be enough. If you are in your forties or older, you should get a health check-up at least every year. If you smoke, have hereditary health conditions, or possess other risk factors, our physicians may recommend for you to come more often.

scientists working at the laboratory.

Our long-distance patients from the US, Europe, the Middle East or Africa may only come once a year and combine their medical visits with other travel and leisure activities. Alternatively, they can always communicate with their physician via video conferencing.

Is there anything else that you want to share with this audience. Anything on pricing?
There has been debate over this in recent months. Thailand’s hospitals are swarmed by about 25 million medical tourists from around the world. Though prices for treatments and medications have begun to rise, they are still 50-80% less than in the US or their home countries. Price is certainly an important aspect, but there are other factors to consider such as convenience, service, and medical certification. At VitalLife, all medical emergency and integrative medicine services are available on one campus, waiting time is comparably short and most tests are completed in a few hours. Our facility offers concierge service, multilingual staff and we can even book sightseeing tours for you. We are also the first facility in Asia to receive the prestigious JCI certification (Joint Commission International), which is considered the gold standard in global healthcare.

Can you talk a little more about the staff and quality of the physicians?

Most of our Thai doctors are trained in Europe or the USA. Many started in conventional medicine and have completed additional training with prestigious organisations such as the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Our International Medical Director, Dr Terry Grossman, is a world-renown authority in the field of anti-aging and preventive medicine. He has developed many of our cutting-edge protocols for measuring and modifying biological age and promoting not just a long lifespan but also health-span.

You mentioned aesthetic services. What do you offer?

VitalLife offers comprehensive, non-surgical face and body services from dermal fillers, Botox, and body sculpting treatments to laser and light therapies. We really can tackle every common skin and beauty concern. However, we have taken aesthetics to a whole new level by combining external beauty treatments with internal diagnostics and wellness therapies. Why? Because we know that outside appearance is often a reflection of inner health. Our doctors understand, for instance, that poor gut health and food sensitivities may be the cause of acne. That hormonal imbalances can make it difficult to lose weight and cause skin discolouration’s. By addressing the root causes of skin and body concerns while simultaneously treating external blemishes, we see improved treatments outcomes, faster and longer-lasting results – not to mention happier patients.

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