Thailand hospital business expects boom in medical tourism

Published:  13 Jun at 6 PM
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According to research by the Kasikorn Bank’s research centre, the profitable private hospital business in Thailand is expected to grow further during 2018.

Literally millions of foreign patients, including expat residents as well as medical tourists are expected to visit Thai private hospitals by the end of 2018. The split is expected to be some 2.5 million medical tourists and just under a million expatriates living in the Kingdom. Last year, medical tourists accounted for 2.4 million visits, with expat numbers at 900,000.

Demographically, arrivals from Asian countries including Myanmar, China and Japan are rising, filling in the decline of patients from the Gulf States due to the development of first-class medical facilities in their home countries. Chinese travel to Thailand continues to increase, with over 10 million Chinese tourists expected to arrive by the end of 2018, an increase of around eight per cent over last year’s total. The trend is being seen by investors and providers of private hospital facilities as a tremendous opportunity for profit.

Medical services available in Thailand’s private sector include dental services, fertility treatments and cosmetic surgery and are especially attractive for Chinese medical tourists from regions without ultra-modern facilities. In 2016, 500,000 Chinese medical tourists left the home country to obtain treatment as against just 100,000 in 2015. Some 40,000 are expected to book into Thai hospitals before the end of 2018, with researchers urging local hospitals to expand in the general direction of fertility treatments and cosmetic surgery.

Research also identified a need for Thai hospitals to fight harder to attract new medical tourists as the international sector in Asia is gearing up to attract more clients. Japan and South Korea are the most popular medical tourism hubs at present, especially for Chinese seeking cosmetic surgery and treatment for complex illnesses such as cancer. In a previous study, Thailand ranked ninth in the region as a medical tourism destination, with prices for treatment increasing significantly and becoming less affordable for expat retirees.

As regards Thailand’s expat community, the most-heard complaints are the regular increases in the price of treatment and the difficulty of dealing with hospital staff using the English language. A large number of expats are elderly and find learning Thai a major problem. There’s also a cultural issue, as consultants comfortable with English still don’t expect to have to answer questions about medication or treatment. Increasingly, there a move in the community towards taking a shortish flight to India for surgical treatment as English is spoken, standards are high and prices are far lower than in Thailand.
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