This article is brought to us by Cooper, Claridge-Ware, an independent International Health Insurance Brokerage headquartered in Hong Kong, China with more than 55 years of experience in helping expatriates and travellers around the world find the best insurance solutions possible.
Following on from our in-depth explanation of the Chinese Healthcare System, this month Cooper, Claridge-Ware is going to be taking a close look at another favourite destination for travellers across the world; welcome to Thailand.
Thailand, known as the “Land of Smiles,” is one of the most welcoming destinations in Asia and has long been on the list of “must-visit” countries for many travellers and backpackers from around the world. From the nightlife of Bangkok and Pattaya to the serene beaches of Hua Hin and Koh Samui, Thailand has something to offer everyone.
However, unbeknownst to many of the vacationers hitting Thailand’s sunny shores in increasing numbers every year, a large number of tourists are arriving in the country not to go trekking in the jungle, or to go scuba diving off the Similan Islands, or even to enjoy the rough-and-tumble party scene in Pat Pong, but rather these individuals are traveling to Thailand for the express purpose of receiving medical treatment.
Yes, that’s right; Thailand is quickly becoming an international hub for medical tourism. A large number of the passengers on your flight into Suvarnabhumi Airport may actually be eschewing a beach vacation in favour of a five-star stay at Bumrungrad Hospital, one of Bangkok’s top medical facilities; and before you jump to the conclusion that this seems slightly strange (crazy even) you should know a little bit more about how the Thai healthcare system operates, and why the country is leading an international renaissance in affordable healthcare services.
It all started with the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok during 1997 when the entirety of Asia was gripped in the thralls of the Asian-Financial crisis. The four Tiger economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong were all hit with economic meltdowns that resulted in stock market slumps and massive devaluing of their respective currencies. Thailand was also hit hard during this time, and the Bumrungrad hospital saw its patient load severely reduced due to the fact that it catered towards wealthy Thai nationals who had borne the brunt of the country’s exposure to the financial crisis which was gripping the rest of the continent.
In an effort to stay profitable Bumrungrad started advertising its services overseas and promoted the idea of traveling abroad to receive medical treatment at vastly reduced prices; an idea which created the emerging “medical tourism industry.” This made sense when Thailand’s premier medical facilities, and the Bumrungrad Hospital in particular, were compared against their private sector counterparts in the leading Asian “Dragons” as the cost of treatment in Thailand was many times lower than the costs for the same procedure in Hong Kong or Singapore whilst maintaining the high standards of service.
In 2002 the case for receiving medical treatment in Thailand became much stronger when the Bumrungrad hospital received Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation (the first hospital in Asia to receive the label) by the same organization which accredits medical facilities in the USA. With the JCI certificate in place, on top of five-star services at vastly reduced prices, the Thai Medical Tourism boom was set to commence. Today there are 30 JCI accredited hospitals in Thailand, and the country is treating over 450,000 medical tourists each year (according to studies performed by the World Health Organization). While medical tourists represent only a fraction of the more than 15 million visitors entering Thailand each year, the number of travellers identifying as medical tourists is continuing to grow, and it’s easy to see why.
To give a rough idea as to the incredibly low costs associated with healthcare services in Thailand we can look at a price comparison of Thailand against the USA, Singapore, and India:
As can be seen from the above chart, the costs of receiving a complex and high-risk procedure in Thailand are far lower than a similar procedure received in the USA, and slightly lower than the same treatment being received in Singapore. Although India is cheaper, the accreditation of Hospitals in India is not as prevalent as it is in Thailand, leading to Thai medical facilities being the dominant player in the global medical tourism market.
Additionally, while the cost of care is a major factor in Thailand’s success as an international medical tourism hub, the standards of care provided to patients are a major benefit to receiving healthcare in the country. One intriguing statistic that shows exactly how high-quality the medical services in Thailand are can be seen through the fact that a majority of the country’s medical tourists originate from fairly well-off economies in the Middle East; medical tourists in Thailand are increasingly coming from places like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
For the most part these travellers are not overly concerned about the cost of care (especially when countries like the UAE subsidize their citizen’s medical costs directly) but are choosing to receive their treatment at Thai hospitals due to the five-star reception that patients receive. In essence, receiving medical care at a hospital like Bumrungrad is almost on par with staying at Bangkok’s Peninsula Hotel! With concierge services on hand, and the ability to book sightseeing tours at the capital’s many temples after your surgery, Thai hospitals are not just healthcare facilities, but are instead high-end luxurious accommodations where healthcare can be received in complete comfort.
But what does all of this mean for ordinary travellers in the country?
If you’re planning a trip to Thailand then you can be secure knowing that the country will be able to provide quality medical options in the event that you fall sick or suffer a serious accident; with a host of jungles and water-based activities on offer this is not as unlikely as it seems. Additionally, any traveller requiring medical treatment in Thailand can rest assured that they will not have to break the bank when receiving their healthcare – treatment options are by no means cheap, US$ 10,000 for a valve replacement isn’t going to be pocket change for many people, but it is a far site less expensive than the US$ 160,000 the same treatment would cost in the States.
Admittedly, not everyone will require a heart valve replacement (certainly not if you’re relatively young and in good health), but a case can be made that Thailand is quickly becoming the healthcare hub of the region. As more and more travellers head overseas from developed parts of the world, like the European Union and the USA, countries like Thailand (and the Asian continent on the whole) are proving to be highly attractive destinations. Whilst some of these travellers may end up in a healthcare market with high-cost services, like Hong Kong, it can actually be cheaper to fly to Thailand in the event of any medical requirements than it would be to purchase health insurance in Hong Kong and be treated locally!
Because of this, admittedly strange, reality it is important to understand that any traveller choosing to visit, or relocate to Asia will never be far away from some of the best-value healthcare in the world. As such, especially with the prevalence of local public healthcare systems in many Asian countries, health insurance might not be considered a “must-have” purchase for travellers in Asia – although travel insurance to protect your personal possession should still be considered.
The Bottom Line in Thai Healthcare
Thailand’s Healthcare system has come a long way since 1997, and today more than 450,000 people (under a conservative estimate) travel to the country each year for the express purpose of receiving medical treatment. With a legion of treatment options, the relatively low costs of care, and the high service standards used by Thai hospitals, any traveller to Thailand can rest assured that they will be able to receive comprehensive medical care in an emergency situation. As such, global and local health insurance for travellers in Thailand may not be a necessity and should be considered based on personal needs.
About Cooper, Claridge-Ware
Cooper, Claridge-Ware (CCW) is an independent International Health Insurance Brokerage headquartered in Hong Kong, China. With more than 55 years of experience in helping expatriates and travellers around the world find the best insurance solutions possible, CCW helps to simplify the process of identifying, and obtaining, high-quality medical coverage no matter where you may be.
For more information please visit www.ccw-global.com.