Monday, 26 September 2011

Thailand Medical Tourism: A journey from 1997 Asian Financial Crisis to 2011

Medical tourism is emerging as one of the fastest growing markets in Asia, with the rising number of foreign tourists coming for their treatments into the region. There are various countries that are the most sought after destinations for the medical tourism including - Malaysia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, and South Korea. Thailand, Singapore and India are the leading or best destinations for medical tourism that together accounted for around 90% of the total Asian medical tourism market in 2010. The main reasons for the growth of the industry include the low cost of treatments and the world-class services. The cost of some highly sophisticated treatments, such as hip replacement and heart valve replacement is much lower in India and Thailand than in the United States.

Medical tourism has become one of the fastest growing fields of the tourism industry. Additionally, with the problems the U.S. is facing with its healthcare reform, medical tourism is becoming more and more a known alternative solution to medical treatment. Insurance companies, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, have programs that offer coverage for medical procedures done abroad. They see how medical tourism is a win-win situation for all parties involved because of the low cost, high quality treatment found in countries such as Thailand.

Medical tourism statics indicate that by 2012, the medical tourism is expected to grow into a $100 billion dollar industry worldwide. The report also suggests that nearly 40 per cent of medical travellers seek advanced technology, while 32 per cent look for better healthcare facilities, 15 per cent seek quick medical facilities, while only 7 per cent of travellers ask for cost effective medical facilities as their primary requirement while looking for medical facilities abroad.

1997 Asian financial crisis was a period of financial crisis that gripped much of Asia beginning in July 1997, and raised fears of a worldwide economic meltdown due to financial contagion. The crisis started in Thailand with the financial collapse of the Thai baht caused by the decision of the Thai government to float the baht, cutting its peg to the U.S. dollar. 1997 Asian financial crisis pushed many hospitals into bankruptcy and put many leading hospital’s finances on the critical list. Now the current recession has given an opportunity to leading hospitals to shore up the local foundation for its international business. The government, with remaining hospitals capitalized Thailand’s excellent medical infrastructure to attract international patients first by nearby countries such as Japan, Korea, and China and later from Europe and the U.S. to revive the sector.

Thailand has high potential and marketing opportunities for medical tourism due to the country’s well established industry to provide high quality, cost effective treatment of international standards and the highly developed tourism industry. The infrastructure in Thailand is also one of the many reasons why Thailand has experienced such growth in medical tourism. The Thai people are warm and friendly and have a way to make one feel comfortable in any setting.

Thailand’s medical tourism industry is now so robust and mature that over 1.5 million international patients travelled to Thailand last year alone to seek medical treatment and making it the number one destination for medical tourists. Thailand’s medical tourism industry is driven largely by the private hospitals. There are currently 15 hospitals in Thailand that are JCI accredited. JCI (Joint Commission International) is a nongovernmental organization that provides hospitals worldwide with accreditation.

Leading private hospital chains are playing a key role in boosting Thailand as a medical-care service. Bumrungrad International Hospital is at the center of Thailand’s medical tourism. Virtually every major language is spoken or translated there and even assistance with travel arrangements can be found within the hospital. Bumrungrad has set the standard in quality and quantity in contemporary healthcare throughout Asia and the world. Other hospitals that are just as impressive include the Dusit Medical Group that owns and operates 17 hospitals throughout Thailand.

In order to attract foreign patients, leading hospitals are raising their medical standards, hiring internationally qualified doctors and investing in state-of-the-art medical equipments. The chains saw declining business in 2009 due to the global economic crisis, the airport shutdown and type-A (H1N1) influenza.

The scope of procedures being undertaken in Thailand was wide, covering areas such as plastic surgery, joint replacement, cancer treatment, open heart surgery and dental care. Nearly 15 per cent of medical tourists sought breast implants and breast augmentation in Thailand.

Middle Eastern travel to Thailand is constantly on the rise, whether seeking medical care or leisure travel. TAT is now focusing its aims on further promoting tourism in the region based on the success of initial cooperation with region governments.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand states that Thailand attracts nearly 14 million visitors every year, with majority including leisure and business visitors. Owing to critical differences in the prices and ready accessibility of medical services in the West and the Middle East, Thailand has witnessed a rapid increase in foreigners demand for medical treatments in Thailand.

Thailand brings in an estimated 1 billion U.S. Dollars from medical tourism yearly. Thailand currently holds a 38% stake in the world’s medical tourism market, the largest of any country in the globe. The Thai government also has ambitious plans to increase revenues from medical tourism by 10 folds by 2014.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is promoting medical tourism among domestic tourists. The health-conscious trend is popular among Thai people and Thailand has know-how related to herbs and alternative medicine. Thailand has many destinations popular for alternative medicine and herb products. TAT is working to select key places and promote them. These destinations and their products are certified by the Public Health Ministry.

Thailand, a popular tourist location in the heart of Southeast Asia, has gained recognition as a credible medical tourism destination as well. Ranked 47th by the World Health Organization, the Thai healthcare system has also been well recognized by the US consular information sheet.

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