,Thailand

Smart visa driven medical tourism boom threatens to overwhelm Thai public hospitals

About 1.4 million international patients received medical treatment in 2012.

Thailand is seeing a surge in medical tourists since introducing its new smart visas in 2018 which allow visitors from several Asian countries to stay for 90 days rather than 30.

Dr. Phusit Prakongsai, acting senior advisor on health promotion at Thailand’s Ministry of Health, highlighted that the number of medical tourists is expected to surge to roughly 40 million in 2019, and as a result has pressured the government to find ways in which it can control costs at both the public and private health sector fronts and still ensure quality healthcare delivery to all patients.

“We have a lot of debate on medical tourism, especially on medical government policy. From the Ministry of Finance standpoint, they will try to establish benchmark prices and stabilise costs, but from Ministry of Public Health perspective, we have the problem of limited human and infrastructure resources,” Dr. Prakongsai noted. “Public hospitals such as Bangkok’s King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital are very crowded with patients.”

Part of the government’s strategic plan to become a global medical hub involved loosening visa restrictions and the creation of smart visas. Extending visas from 30 days to 90 days for citizens of China along with those of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) increased treatment options given the longer duration, whilst the ‘smart visas’ allowed foreign professionals within 12 categories, including one for ‘affluent, medical and wellness tourism, to stay in the country for up to four years without a need for a work permit.

A report noted that in 2011, 500,000 of the 19 million visitors that came to Thailand travelled specifically for medical treatment, whereas of the 10.2 million tourists that visit Singapore each year, only 200,000 go to receive medical care. About 1.4 million international patients received medical treatment in 2012 and the number is increasing annually. A separate 2016 Medical Tourism Index noted that annually, the number of medical tourists visiting Thailand had jumped to 25 million.

A news report from August 2018 revealed that Vachira Phuket Hospital in Phuket Town, the main government hospital on the island, would begin refusing to treat non-critical inpatients unless they were referred by a medical specialist from 1 October due to a bed shortage. A notice via the hospital’s website noted that due to the shortage of beds, there are often cases where patients have to be transferred to Surat Thani Hospital or sometimes even Maharat Nakhon Si Thammarat Hospital in Nakorn Sri Thammarat province.

Dr. Prakongsai further highlighted how keeping costs down is vital, given how the government sometimes receives complaints from international patients on their hefty hospital bills. “Our role is to try to communicate and control, from some distance, the quality and price of the services, but we are not trying to be competitive with the private sector because our roles and our responsibilities are somewhat different - we are mainly responsible for the Thai citizen.” 

Join Healthcare Asia Magazine community
Since you're here...

...there are many ways you can work with us to advertise your company and connect to your customers. Our team can help you dight and create an advertising campaign, in print and digital, on this website and in print magazine.

We can also organize a real life or digital event for you and find thought leader speakers as well as industry leaders, who could be your potential partners, to join the event. We also run some awards programmes which give you an opportunity to be recognized for your achievements during the year and you can join this as a participant or a sponsor.

Let us help you drive your business forward with a good partnership!

The loss will not have any material impact on the company.
Around 66 hotels have submitted to offer their rooms for hotel isolation.
He has been acting as group CEO since September 2021.
Bidding for these projects may commence in the first half of 2022.
Cardholders can now seek treatment from units where they did not register.
The system will be implemented this year.
The new facility will provide care for Indonesians who get treatment overseas.
The system was the only one of its kind in the country.
Healthcare Asia will be back on 3 January 2022. 
The additional patents aim to address supply issues.
Evusheld is a long-acting antibody candidate for COVID-19 treatment.
Despite NCDs accounting for 41 million deaths annually, they are still healthcare's 'blind spot', expert says.
The gala was held in celebration of World AIDS Day 2021.
It won in the International Human-Machine Competition on Diabetes Management.
The new facility is the first of its kind in Singapore.