The Thai government is taking steps to develop Thailand into a medical hub in the region, with an emphasis on wellness and high-quality services at international standards. It believes that the policy on the medical hub will help promote medical tourism and turn Thailand into a wellness destination in this part of the world.
Toward this aim, the Government has worked out a strategy, to be implemented from 2012 to 2016, for the development of Thailand into a medical focal point. The strategy involves four major areas: medical treatment, health promotion, traditional Thai medicine and alternative medicine, and health products, especially Thai herbs.
In fact, the policy was established in 2004 but has been given greater importance recently, under the condition that the international healthcare program should not affect the availability of good, affordable health care for Thai patients. The Ministry of Public Health was assigned to work in an integrated manner with various relevant agencies in translating this policy into action.
The main objective is to encourage health establishments in Thailand to raise the standards of their services at all levels. Another objective is to enhance the competitiveness of Thailand, as the country has several strengths in terms of experienced health personnel, modern facilities and equipment, hospitality, excellent services, and reasonable prices.
For instance, hospitals throughout the country are ready to provide emergency services 24 hours a day. To date, many hospitals have been recognized and approved as meeting the standards set for the Hospital Accreditation of Thailand and international standards, such as ISO. Thailand was the first country in Asia to achieve the Joint Commission International (JCI) Accreditation.
Thai physicians are capable of providing care and services in every medical field. The majority received their medical education in Thailand and underwent further, clinical training at renowned international medical schools and institutes overseas. In many private-sector hospitals, foreign patients can be assisted by interpreters and coordinators whenever there is need for any such services. To ensure consumer protection, medical services are also regulated to mandate the highest ethical standards and quality of care.
Thailand has earned a reputation as an excellent location for spa services in Asia. Bangkok is known as the “Spa Capital of Asia,” generating income through traditional Thai massage, beauty treatment services, and alternative medicine, thereby creating a sales channel for herbal products used in spa treatments. Apart from Bangkok, such major tourism destinations as Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Samui offer inclusive medical spa resorts and wellness retreats, as well. To ensure hygiene and safety, these health spas require certification by the Ministry of Public Health.
Statistics compiled by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health show that, in 2012, foreign visitors sought medical services here on more than two million trips. Popular health services include medical check-ups, cosmetic surgery, transsexual surgery, dental care, orthopedic surgery, and heart surgery.
Medical tourism generated 52 billion baht in revenue for Thailand in 2008, 58 billion baht in 2009, and 65 billion baht in 2010. The earnings rose to 97.8 billion baht in 2011 and 121.6 billion baht in 2012.
The number of foreign clients seeking medical tourism services in Thailand is on the rise. They come mainly from Japan, the United States, China, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Germany, and countries in South Asia and the Middle East.
In promoting the policy on the medical hub, the Thai government introduced a new regulation on 4 January 2013 for the granting of visa extensions from 30 days to 90 days to nationals of six Middle Eastern countries in the initial stage. The six countries include the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This privilege under the medical hub project would be extended to other ASEAN countries, as well, when the ASEAN Community is in place in 2015.
In preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community, the Ministry of Public Health is preparing to rearrange its medical service zones across the country in order to pool their resources to ensure optimum efficiency and reduce duplication of investment. It is also creating more personnel to meet the expected growing demand for medical care.
The Bangkok Hospital Group, which is Thailand’s largest hospital operator with 13 network locations throughout the country, is expanding its medical tourism markets in ASEAN, especially Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.