Medical Tourism to Thailand

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Thailand is leading Asia as a medical tourism destination. Medical tourism in Thailand is booming; pushing other nations down the list. The number of medical tourists that come in Thailand has been steadily increasing since the early 2000's. This has resulted in the country taking its place on the top of the global medical tourism market.

The main reasons that have enabled Thailand to dominate this growing market are:
the low cost of medical treatment, the quality of treatment provided by private medical centers, and the highly developed tourism industry.

Thailand's healthcare system

There are approximately 1,000 hospitals in Thailand, of which over 300 are private facilities. The country takes pride in having the largest private hospital in Asia, as well as having the first Asian hospital to receive the ISO 9001 certification and JCI accreditation. To date, 14 hospitals in Thailand have been accredited by the JCI, all of them private. 

Thailand’s Medical tourism industry is largely driven by private hospitals. Thai doctors are attracted to the international hospitals as they can earn as much as 70% more than in the public hospitals.
Leading the list of private hospitals are the Bumrungrad International Hospital, Bangkok Hospital Group, and Samitivej Hospitals. These hospitals are widely becoming renowned globally. They are known to cater mostly to foreign patients and have been actively seeking medical tourists since the early 2000's. Around 30-50% of the patients in these hospitals are foreigners, due to the fact that, to a greater extent, they find the hospitals cheaper than their home countries. However, most Thais find the prices in these hospitals too high, as salaries in Thailand are low.

Top Hospitals for Foreign Patients in Thailand

  • Bumrungrad International
    Bumrungrad International is known to have excellent facilities for medical tourists. The hospital has treated over 420,000 foreign patients in 2008, (including expatriates and medical tourists) from 190 countries worldwide (3). It attracts more foreign patients than any other hospital in the world. Over half of the hospital's doctors have international training and/or board certification, including 200 who are US board certified.
  • Bangkok Hospitals Group
    The Bangkok Hospital Group is a leading group of hospitals with specialized services for overseas patients. It has a network of 15 hospitals scattered all over Thailand. The Bangkok International Hospital in Bangkok tops the list. It has an International Medical Center which caters especially for medical tourists, and is completely employed with multilingual interpreters. It even has a Japanese Medical Centre with Japanese speaking physicians and nurses.
  • Samitivej Hospitals
    The Samitivej Hospitals are a well known chain in Thailand. The group has expanded and developed world class healthcare facilities, including 3 JCI accredited hospitals. Samitivej Hospitals are equipped with advanced medical equipment that compares to the hospitals in the North America and Europe.
     
  • For more information about Thai hospitals, browse are list of hospitals for medical tourists in Thailand.

Common Procedures done by Medical Tourists in Thailand

The procedures medical tourists come to Thailand for varies diversely. Nevertheless, the popular treatments include the following:
  • Cosmetic / plastic surgeries
    Every aesthetic procedure in Thailand costs only a small fraction as compared to what patients in US and UK would pay back home. Yet, the standard of service and treatment is usually high.
  • Dental procedures
    From routine checkups to the most complicated dental surgeries, many Thai dental clinics and hospitals are well equipped and employed to execute a complete range of dental treatments. The costs are also comparatively low and the standards are international.
  • Medical check-up programs
    Medical check-up programs are a growing trend in the global medical tourism market. These programs are recommended for everyone, and the frequency would depend on the patient's age and condition. They are particularly recommended for patients in their 40's or 50's. Every major hospital in Thailand has inclusive check-up packages.
  • Cardiac procedures
    Many hospitals in Thailand, including the Bangkok Heart Hospital, have cardiac surgery centers. Procedures carried out in Thailand include heart bypass, angioplasty, and heart valve replacement, among others.
  • Orthopedic surgery
    Foreign patients fly Thailand to get different kinds of orthopedic procedures. Many orthopedic surgeons in Thailand have been trained overseas and equipment used for the procedures are assured to be modern and innovative, including the Computer Assisted Surgery (CAS) Micro Invasive Surgery (MAS). Common orthopedic surgeries that take place in Thailand are hip and knee replacement, as well as spine surgeries.
  • Infertility treatment
    Common procedures such as IVF, ICSI, IUI and PGD can be done in Thailand at significantly lower prices than in most developed countries.
  • Bariatric surgery
    Gastric Bypass, gastic banding (lab-band), etc.
  • Ophtamology and eye surgeries
    LASIK, Cataract surgeries, etc.

Cost of Medical Treatment in Thailand

Major surgeries

Cost comparison of major surgeries between US and Thailand (in US$)
From data provided by BusinessWeek.com (4)
Procedure US Thailand
Heart bypass 130,000 11,000
Heart valve replacement 160,000 10,000
Angioplasty 57,000 13,000
Hip replacement 43,000 12,000
Knee replacement 40,000 10,000
Hysterectomy 20,000 4,500
Spinal fusion 62,000 7,000
Cosmetic and plastic procedures

Cost comparison of cosmetic and plastic procedures between US and Thailand (in US$)
Procedure US Thailand
Breast augmentation 3,500-4,000 2,600-3,200
Breast lift 4,000-4,500 2,600
Breast reduction 4,000-4,500 2,900
Buttock implant 4,000-5,000 4,000
Buttock lift 4,000-5,000 2,400
Cheek implant 2,000-2,500 1,200
Chin augmentation 1,700-2,000 700
Blepharoplasty 2,500-3,000 540
Facelift 4,500-5,000 2,400
Forehead lift 2,500-3,000 1,400
Nose reshaping 3,500-4,000 1,200
Liposuction 2,500-3,000 1,200
Tummy tuck 4,500-5,500 3,000
Vaginal rejuvenation 2,000-2,500 350-1,200
Hair transplant 4,000-4,500 1,000-2,000
Dental procedures

Cost comparison of dental procedures between US and Thailand (in US$)
Procedure US Thailand
Cleaning 100-300 25-50
Tooth whitening 800-1,200 100
Tooth bleaching 350 - 500 150
Single implant 3,500 2,000
Amalgam filling 200-500 20
Porcelain crown 600-1,000 300-470
Ceramic crown 5,500 470-500
Root canal treatment 500-2,000 150

Pros

Here are the main reasons why multitudes of foreigners seek medical treatment in Thailand.
  • Low cost of medical treatments

    The treatment costs in Thailand amount to only a fraction to that of their counterparts in most Western countries. The prices for treatment are usually between 20-50% lower than that of an equivalent treatment in the West. This low cost leaves the medical tourist a budget for recuperation and even recreation.
  • High quality healthcare services

    In recent years, Thailand's private sector has established a growing number of medical facilities that can be compared side by side with leading hospitals worldwide. The country has over 30 hospitals that cater to medical tourists, as well as numerous dental and cosmetic clinics and other medical and alternative medicine centers. Hospitals in Thailand that have the JCI accreditation amount to 8, and all hospitals in Thailand are licensed by the country's Ministry of Public Health.
    Physicians in Thailand are also highly educated and trained. Many of them hold professional certifications obtained in the US and/or Europe. In Bumrungrad for example, approximately 200 doctors are US board certified and 400 were trained in Western hospitals (5).
  • Highly developed tourism infrastructure

    Thailand is among the top holiday destinations in the world, being a paradise of inviting beaches and nature's best scenes. The country has a rich culture with a splendid cuisine, and people are friendly and accommodating to foreigners. If it were not for the integration of these tourism strengths to the medical service sector, the status of Thailand's medical tourism would not be so well developed. Being a major tourist destination, service is one of the top factors that contributed to the industry's success. Thai people strive to give their best in rendering services to their country's visitors. Whereas, foreigners are glad to receive the same quality of service be it in the hotel or in the hospital.

Cons

  • Lack of primary healthcare system

    Despite the fact that many doctors in Thailand have studied and received training in the US or UK, most of them are specialists. Unfortunately, the healthcare system of Thailand relies heavily on specialized medicine. This means that common minor ailments or several medical problems all at once, are hard for a specialist to pinpoint. If an underlying symptom is unknown, general medicine or internists would be the best option.
  • Some doctors are employed part time

    There are doctors in Thailand, including physicians and surgeons in different specialties, who work under various hospitals. They tend to juggle schedules between different hospitals all over Thailand, sometimes even having their own private clinical services somewhere. When choosing a doctor or surgeon, make sure you know their schedule in advance, and demand to get the attention you need before paying the money. Comparatively though, doctors and medical staff in Thailand are much more attentive than doctors in the West.
  • Lack of emergency transport facilities

    While most hospitals have ambulatory services, there is still a lack of transport in case of emergency ‘call outs’. This specifically refers to air transport, as alternative to land transport in cases of heavy traffic or immediacy of need.

Statistics of Thailand Medical Tourism

Medical tourism in Thailand has increased dramatically in recent years. The official figures only state the number of international patients, but we estimate that 20% of those are medical tourists (1).
Year Number of international
patients
Number of medical
tourists (estimate)
2008 1,500,000 300,000
2007 1,400,000 280,000
2006 1,000,000 200,000
Medical tourists come to Thailand from almost every country in the world. The main sources for medical tourists in Thailand are:
  • Japan
  • Middle East
  • US
  • China
  • United Kingdom
  • Western Europe
  • Australia

Information Sources:

[1] Taiwan Institute of Economic Research - An Insight on Medical Tourism Sector Developments in Asian Countries
[2] Business Week report - Top Medical Tourism Destinations
[3] Bumrungrad International Annual Report 2008
[4] Smart travel Asia - Medical tourism in Asia
[5] Asia News Network - Thailand dominates global medical tourism market
Hospitals in Thailand