Thailand wants to double medical tourism revenue

 

Thailand’s’ Public Health Ministry has drawn up a five-year plan to double the revenue from medical service businesses by 2014 by making Thailand a medical hub and world-class spa destination.

Last year, the revenue reached Bt200 billion. However, the government achieved only 80 per cent of the projected revenue because of the political chaos since 2007 and the closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport late last year. Dr Tangnapakorn of Health Service Support says, "Despite the global economic slump, medical service in Thailand continues to grow thanks to more choice of services, international-standard treatment, new medical sciences as well as new alternative treatments. These factors will enable Thailand to become a medical hub. What we are doing is to restore the confidence of foreigners to return to Thailand for world-class treatment."

The ministry is trying to upgrade Thai spas to meet international standards for spa operators and therapists. Wichien Juthamongkol, of Phuket Spa Association (PSA), said the five-year plan is focused on world-class standards in both service and image. All Thai spa, massage and health services should be upgraded. In addition, total revenue from Thai spa and massage should account for a fifth of the total target of revenue by 2014.There are 200 spa operators in Phuket but only 70 spas have been licensed by the ministry. PSA will promote more hotel spas as now only 50 hotels out of a total of 400 hotels in Phuket operate hotel spas. Under the ministry's five-year plan, spa operators will be graded in three categories - gold, silver and platinum.

The healthcare sector has 1360 hospitals, of which two-thirds are in the public sector. In 2006 Thailand had an estimated 145,000 hospital beds, with 40,000 of these in the private sector. There has been an increase in the number of private hospitals in the past few years. In 2006 there were 471 private hospitals, most of which were concentrated in urban areas and 44 per cent of private hospitals were in Bangkok. Most private hospitals now have occupancy rates of only around 30 per cent, but some medical tourism ones are much higher.

The Ministry of Public Health aims to make Thailand the centre for health services in Asia by 2010. The target is to increase the number of foreigners seeking medical treatment in Thailand’s hospitals from a total of 970,000 in 2003 to two million by 2010. As Thailand’s cost of living is much lower than in Japan, the US and Europe, it is much cheaper for foreigners to obtain medical care in Thailand than in their own countries.

Realising that price needs to be coupled with excellent service, more private hospitals have started offering non-medical services, such as booking flights and arranging visas for patients. The government is backing a Hospital Accreditation (HA) scheme, whereby a hospital is accredited if it reaches international standards. HA is conducted by the Institute of Hospital Quality Improvement & Accreditation.

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