The present and future of Thailand’s medical tourism industry
If you’ve been paying attention to the trends among healthcare systems and hospitals in Thailand over the past few years, you will no doubt have heard all about the impact that Thailand’s medical tourism industry has been having. Before COVID-19, more and more people from outside of Thailand traveled here to take advantage of the great value that top private Thai hospitals provide; allowing people access to high-quality care at top-notch facilities for a fraction of the cost they would find in their home countries.
With vaccination programs underway across the globe in 2021, Thailand will soon be welcoming foreign medical tourists that are looking to invest in their health and improve their wellbeing.
In this article, Pacific Prime Thailand examines the current state of Thailand’s medical tourism industry, the most popular treatments and procedures, and the ongoing wellness trends.
Thailand medical tourism
There are several medical reasons why people travel to Thailand for medical treatment. Of course, the bottom line is often the number one reason for people, as they can certainly save a bundle by turning to Thai hospitals for treatment. This is especially true if private healthcare in their home country is bank-breakingly expensive. However, there are other reasons why people choose to travel abroad for treatment, too.
For example, some countries have public healthcare that will take care of a patient’s medical problem for next to no cost, or even free like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). However, public healthcare systems commonly have long waiting lists for some procedures; especially if a patient’s condition is not particularly life-threatening. In these instances, a person may not wish to wait for their treatment, and, thus, prefer to turn to private healthcare treatment for quick treatment.
Thailand’s public hospitals
Thailand’s public hospitals also experience long queues and, depending on the authorities operating them, receive inadequate or little investments to sustain proper medical healthcare. However, there are some outstanding public hospitals like King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital and Siriraj Hospital that have for decades received recognition for their high level of service and commitment to treating public health.
Thailand’s private hospitals
But when it comes to medical tourism, it is the private hospitals in Thailand that truly shine, as the doctors in the country are very well trained in the latest treatments and procedures, and hospitals are outfitted with the most cutting-edge medical technology. Additionally, doctors and other staff in the hospitals that medical tourists gravitate towards in Thailand have excellent language skills, so patients have little to no communication issues.
Beyond just the medical side of things, people who travel to Thailand for care are often amazed at the excellent amenities offered by Thai hospitals. The customer service can resemble that of world-class hotels!
(Learn more about the differences in costs and services between private and public hospitals by downloading our guide here.)
Most common medical tourism treatments and procedures
To clarify for those unfamiliar with medical tourism, nobody is going to be a medical tourist to save money when they are having a heart attack. Medical tourism is not appropriate for emergency medical care, and any critical conditions should be treated as soon as possible in the best possible facility in your immediate area.
However, some conditions can occur for which treatment can be put off for some time. For these, Thailand medical tourism can be a solid, money-saving solution. Let’s have a look at some of the most common reasons people travel abroad as medical tourists by using the United States (US) as a reference:
Scans of various kinds – The average cost of an MRI scan in the US is USD $2,611. It is no wonder, then, that some people would be willing to pay for a flight to Thailand, where the same scan can cost between USD $250 and USD $1,100. Savings can be had on other medical scans like PET scans, CT scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays.
Cosmetic procedures, including dental work – Whether it’s a facelift, tummy tuck, breast augmentation, anti-aging treatment, veneers, or any other number of cosmetic surgeries – elective or otherwise – that a patient needs doing, significant savings can be achieved with a trip to Thailand.
Dental treatment is also a popular reason to visit Thailand. A specialist dental clinic with full accreditation can be comparable to your home country and the costs can be significantly cheaper too. Of course, this depends on what you want. For reference, a simple consultation followed by a thorough clean will cost around USD $32.
Physical examinations – Combine your regularly scheduled physical examination with a tropical holiday, and substitute your stuffy, drab hospital environment with a medical facility that could pass for a 5-star resort, and it’s easy to see why people are opting to have their check-ups done in Thailand. The cost savings is just icing on the cake.
Additionally, private hospitals offer several promotions during the year to lure medical tourists over for a full health check. Be sure to look for these health packages as the costs can be considerably cheaper than back at home.
Heart surgery – For more serious procedures like a heart-valve replacement including bypass surgery, the biggest savings can be realized. While this type of procedure might cost USD $75,000 in the United States, it is likely to cost only a third of that price in Thailand. Do take note that prices vary depending on each person.
Joint replacements – Hip replacement in the US can cost over USD $33,000. In Thailand, the same procedure may cost only USD $13,000. Knee replacement surgery in the US can cost USD $30,000, but only USD $11,500 in Thailand. Thus, the reason to travel to Thailand for these procedures is easy to see.
Wellness: The future of medical tourism
One particular area of Thailand’s medical tourism industry which is growing rapidly is wellness tourism. From 2013-2015, the rate of annual growth in this market averaged 7%, and the trend is set to continue once borders open post-COVID-19.
Thailand is preparing to welcome back medical tourists
At the time of writing, Thailand’s required 14-day quarantine has been reduced to 10 days and if visitors have received vaccines, they would be quarantined for 7 days. This is progress in the right direction to welcome back medical tourists seeking treatment in Thailand, as well as immersing themselves in the trending wellness industry that is taking the country by storm.
So what is wellness tourism? It can be many things, but is generally regarded to be health-related services that are not medical treatments, and can often be provided by people who are not doctors or nurses, per se.
Wellness tourism sees health-conscious people traveling to Thailand to better themselves physically, mentally, nutritionally, emotionally, and even spiritually. There are many types of activities that can fall under the banner of wellness tourism, including:
- Fitness and mind-body
- Personalized preventive care
- Thai traditional medicine
- Beauty and anti-aging treatment
- Alternative medicine
- And more.
It is generally thought that the rise of wellness tourism has much to do with the rising affluence and education of people around the world. We are now in an age where many people realize that longevity will be linked to developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, the stresses of the modern world are sometimes unavoidable, so people are looking for getaways that will help them alleviate stress. For this reason, an increasing number of medical tourists are spending less time in hospitals and clinics, and more time in spas and hotels.
So if you are someone who is going to head to Thailand (or anywhere else, for that matter) as a medical tourist, how will you cover the costs? If you are independently wealthy, that’s great, but even if you are traveling to save money on medical costs, they can still add up to a very significant amount (especially if complications occur). This becomes problematic for those with health insurance in their home countries, as more often than not, an existing plan will not provide benefits for Thailand medical tourism.
For further reading: The cost of medical treatments in Thailand
Secure the right health insurance plan for Thailand
Most individual or even employer-provided, health insurance plans are strictly local in nature. This means that once you are out of your country of residence, you no longer have health insurance coverage. Furthermore, travel insurance only provides coverage for emergency medical care. This means that you will not be covered for any type of out-patient or elective procedures or any type of medical care that you schedule ahead of time.
Also, it should be noted that much of the wellness tourism activities mentioned above are unlikely to be covered by a health insurance plan, although some plans can include wellness benefits of some kind.
However, there is a solution! International private medical insurance plans allow you to receive medical care of all kinds virtually anywhere in the world, including Thailand or other medical tourism destinations.
Purchasing an international health insurance plan can provide real peace of mind, especially if you reach out to a health insurance broker like Pacific Prime Thailand.