Medical Tourism in Thailand
Thailand has become an established destination for medical tourism, and quite a few hospitals have thousands of patients a year coming from abroad.
Tens of hospitals in Thailand have achieved JCI- accreditation. Joint Commission International (a non-profit organziation) states on its website that is identifies, measures and shares best practices in quality and patient safety. There is accreditation, from 'Hospital Program' as well as for disease subsections. You can easily find the accredited hospitals in Thailand on their website, and the well known internationally oriented hospitals in Bangkok, seem all to be listed. (We remember a time when one hospital was advertising its services with being accredited, but the time of a single hospital with this distinction has long passed)
According to MyMedHoliday.com (data compiled from data provided by Ministry of Health, Thailand, and Kasikorn Research Center), which provides a lot of useful information about medical tourism, more than 2,5 million medical tourists sought treatment in Thailand in 2012. Estimated revenue is in the 3 to 4 billion US dollar a year range, which suggests a big proportion comes for outpatient treatment or minor procedures. Interestingly, the top 5 countries of origin of medical tourists, are highly or at least moderately developed (Japan, U.S.A, U.K., Gulf Council Countries, and Australia). Patients treated also include foreign nationals residing in Thailand. In any case, and this may be surprising some, Thailand is the world's most visited medical tourism destination.
If foreigners have medical problems while in Thailand, they invariably end up in one of a few hospitals with a good reputation, and well known to cater to foreign patients. Bumrungrad Hospital (Sukhumvit soi 1) seems to be most popular among residents in the Sukhumvit area. However Bangkok General Hospital and its affiliates Samitivej Hospital (Sukhumvit Soi 49) and Bangkok Nursing Home Hospital (Convent Road, off Silom Road), are also very popular.
Already a decade ago, Bumrungrad Hospital was much in the news, with coverage of its medical services provided on U.S. television stations and international magazines. At this hospital (and other around Bangkok) a big chunk of patients is foreign. At various times we remember reading that foreign visitors make up to 40 or 60 % of patients at internationally oriented hospitals. It is as if the local population is not alllowed, which of course is not the case. It just so happens that while foreigners may consider the hospitals cheaper than in their home countries, for most Thais these private hospitals are simply to expensive to consider. (public hospitals, some very well reputed, offer subsidized medical services, or services for a nominal fee, for Thai nationals)
Samitivej Hospital (part of the Bangkok General Hospital Group) is upmarket and is one of the health care providers for medical tourists in Thailand. It is located about 3 km into soi 49, Sukhumvit Road.
Costs, of course, are a major concern, when it comes to medical treatment. See data of price guidelines for selected procedures.
Medical tourism will certainly generate further income for the hospitals involved and for Thailand in general. Thailand's assets as a center for medical care for foreigners are multiple. The standard of treatment and technology is high. The prices are mostly lower than in other countries who provide similar quality and technology. The hospital environment in Thailand is clearly more hospitable. It is fair to say that all the hospitals mentioned above, also look good, are mostly new, and give a favorable impression as soon as you enter them. The tourism infrastructure is well developed (provided you are not so sick that you can not really enjoy sightseeing).
Development of Thailand as a medical hub for patients from the United States, Europe, the surrounding countries, and the Middle East, also raises some questions.
Possibly the most important is : does this all affect the medical care for the Thai population itself? As stated above, most Thai patients can not afford to go to private hospitals. So where to they go to? Over the last few years the Thai Government has developed the so-called '30 baht scheme'. This is a universal healtcare programme whereby everybody get treatment at public hospitals for a standard fee per visit of only just 30 baht. Basically this amounts to free health care. The hospitals who participate in the scheme, get a lump sum per patient registered. We think at present it amounts to around 3,000 baht per patient. It has to be recognized as a major achievement, since before that there hardly was any proper healthcare available for the poorer (that is the larger) part of the population.
However, you have to use your own imagination as to whether the Thai population benefiting from this scheme, will receive the same standard of treatment, as the foreigners who are treated at private hospitals.
Another issue is as to where physicians will prefer to work? There is a long standing problem of a lack of medical specialists in certain provinces of Thailand. While the training of just one doctor takes quite a lot of government resources, it does not follow that the doctors trained feel obliged to go and work in some remote area. Furthermore, we are quite certain that salaries paid by physicians working at private hospitals are higher. So there will be a tendency for highly qualified doctors to work in private hospitals at the expense of the care provided in public hospitals for the general public.
This is a list of companies that facilitate contacts between Thai healthcare providers and 'medical tourists'.