Island Hospital in Penang: Expat review

New Island Hospital building in Penang, Malaysia.

Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Ellen

It’s finally off! I had the cast removed from my arm at Island Hospital in Penang, Malaysia.

The initial bone healing is complete, and now it’s time to get strong before our trip to India. Doc says two more months before full use is safe.

It was my first time at Island Hospital, and I was pleased with how things went.

For expats like us budget slow travelers, this is an account of health care abroad in a popular Malaysian hospital.

It is follow-up treatment from when I was hit by a car in Thailand, which landed me in the emergency room.

Quick background. I broke my arm June 2 when a car hit me in Thailand. We had to leave Thailand before my arm could be placed in a hard cast because it was too swollen, our tourist visas were about to expire, and I had other unrelated medical appointments scheduled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

While in KL, I had a great experience with an orthopedic surgeon who reset my Barton’s fracture two weeks after the crash, and wrapped my arm in a hard cast.

Then we went on to Penang Island, where my Gleneagles experience soured.

Why I went to Island Hospital in Penang instead of Gleneagles

I went for a progress X-ray at the Gleneagles Penang Hospital, thinking it would be easy since it’s the same hospital owner/system as in KL. Nope. I thought wrong.

The Penang location apparently doesn’t communicate well (if at all) with the KL hospital. First, the Penang Gleneagles would not take an x-ray without a doctor’s ‘work order’.

An employee with the International desk in Penang helped me get the needed order from the KL doctor’s office. I had the X-rays. But then, the imaging department told me my KL doctor would not be able to ‘look it up’ in the system, and I would have to send the X-rays myself to the doctor’s office in KL.

To make it even more interesting, the x-ray file was only valid for one week. Then the link would expire.

I was unable to get the doctor’s office in KL to confirm it had received the file that whole week! In that week, I emailed four times, used WhatsApp with the international patient help desk in KL, and I called the orthopedic department.

To be fair, the doctor himself was on vacation until July 19, but I sent the files before he left town. I had a tentative appointment on July 20 to remove the cast in KL.

But I didn’t want to go all the way from Penang to KL on an overnight trip without my doctor looking at the X-rays. What if he said the cast should stay on longer? I would have traveled to KL for no reason.

Sadly, I gave up. Definitely not a good experience.

I canceled my appointment at KL Gleneagles. I considered seeing another orthopedic doctor at the Gleneagles in Penang, but I was pretty turned off by the Gleneagles administrative communication.

So, I decided to try another hospital that also sees international patients — Island Hospital in Penang.

Island Hospital experience

This was a good experience, though actually more expensive than I thought it would be.

Two local Malaysians I know gave the place good reviews, and low cost was part of their generally positive opinions. The only real negative, they said, was the wait times. However, I found it to be comparable to Gleneagles in Penang. Plan to spend several hours waiting for your turn.

The doctor was experienced, fluent in English, attentive, kind — and it turned out a Malaysian friend of mine knew him. His staff were kind, too.

Dr. Chow Chong Chek removed my cast, said the bone was initially healed, showed me exercises to do for the next two months as the bone hardens. (I’m still typing this with one hand.)

Cost breakdown converted from Malaysian ringgit and rounded to the nearest dollar:

  • Patient registration fee: $4
  • X-rays: $16
  • Procedure room fee: $22
  • Doctor consultation: $66
  • Removal of cast: $88
    • TOTAL: $196

Compared to all the other medical stuff I’ve had done in foreign countries over the years, $200 seems high to remove a cast. I do not know if the Gleneagles hospital in KL would have charged less, but we saved transportation and accommodation costs on a side trip back to the big city.

I’m also certain we were charged the Caucasian price, so to speak. Or as my friends in the Philippines used to say, we were charge the “white tax.” No problem. We expect that.

Which is better? Gleneagles or Island Hospital?

So which one is better on Penang Island, Gleneagles or Island Hospital?


Both had international desks that made it easy to make initial appointments. Both had long wait times once inside.

Inside waiting area at Island Hospital in Penang.

Gleneagles and Island Hospital are both clean and have modern equipment.

Actually, Island Hospital has a new building across the street from its current location as of this writing, which is set to open in the fall of 2022. The new, as-yet unopened building is pictured at the top of this page.

But I do have to say: I am really disappointed with the lack of communication between the Gleneagles locations, especially after such a positive experience with Dr. Abdul Jamal in KL.

So how much did this broken bone cost?

  • $440: Bangkok Hospital emergency room charges
  • $96 KL orthopedic consultation and initial X-ray
  • $1,480 Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur bone reset while under anesthesia
  • $196 Island Hospital cast removal

That’s $2,212.

To be clear: these costs are out of our pocket. We are not covered by travel insurance.

I previously posted the itemized bill for the ‘reset’ while under anesthesia in KL Gleneagles, if anyone wants a closer look at charges for a broken bone procedure.

Please note: this is an independent blog. We get nothing in return for any reviews. Ever. And we do not work with sponsors or affiliates.

More healing, relaxing, living

Dr. Jamal seems to have set my relatively rare fracture as best as it can be without surgery. Now it’s up to me to get stronger. It will take time, for sure. My wrist/hand/arm has been immobilized for seven weeks!

I’m glad we’re in Penang six more weeks for further healing and relaxing. Penang is a cool place with many good people.

Shout out to Theo— who makes a good wife with all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, heavy lifting, and banding my hair, since June 2, the day I was hit by a car in Thailand while riding a bicycle.

I was so happy to have the darned thing removed, we went to get ice cacangs (Malaysian desert) the evening my cast was removed.

Life is Now!

Ellen gives thumb up while eating ice cacang in Penang, Malaysia.

Thanks for reading, “Island Hospital in Penang: Expat review.”

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