2.5 Million Medical Tourists in 2013 – What Does it Mean For Thailand?

 | Wed 15 Jan 2014 11:15 ICT

CityNews – Last year, nearly 2.5 million tourists came to Thailand solely to seek medical treatment, pumping 4 billion US dollars into the economy. Foreign patients are extremely attracted to the country because of the low costs of surgery and cosmetic procedures, as well as facing much shorter waiting periods for treatment compared to their home countries.

Most medical tourists to Thailand come from Japan, the UK, the US, and Gulf Arab states, although it is becoming more and more popular to see visitors from surrounding ASEAN countries, like Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The Thai government has high expectations for the country’s medical tourism sector, and implemented a program in 2012 to elevate the industry to the status of ‘Medical Hub of Asia’ within the next 3 years.

However, the growth of medical tourism in the Kingdom has a downside, with many Thai people already struggling to afford basic healthcare. Some worry that the government’s focus on a private sector that benefits mainly foreign patients will ultimately cause Thai patients to suffer. Professionals in the industry all echo the same speculations: growing demand for medical tourism will drive up costs of procedures, and deplete the country’s resources by potentially lowering salaries of qualified, experienced doctors.

While the increasing trend of medical tourism will continue to call for qualified doctors, strict laws make it nearly impossible for foreign doctors and surgeons to practice in the country, despite how qualified or well-educated they might be. This means that hospitals and clinics will have to pick from the shrinking pool of Thai healthcare professionals, mostly educated overseas, who might soon start thinking about migrating to greener, richer pastures.

Al Jazeera recently published a video on Youtube addressing medical tourism in Thailand, which you can watch here.