Sociology Index

Medical Tourism In Thailand

Medical Tourism

Thailand made its name as a medical destination in the 1970's. Thailand offers top-quality medical care, extremely low cost and a free trip to the beach. Open-heart surgery much less at Bumrungrad, rather than the tens of thousands of dollars it might cost in the United States. An outpatient consultation is generally less than $10. A complete cardiac examination, including a full range of tests, costs about $100. The average hospital bed costs $50 a night. Thailand is known for sex-change operations known more formally as gender reassignment surgery, or G.R.S. and a favourite place for people who want to look like Bo Derek. Thailand has turned to what it calls comprehensive medical tourism, offering services that range from dental care to cancer treatments.

Thai Chamber of Commerce has established its own health-care promotion agency. The key to this new promotion is the high level of medical care that has emerged here in the past decade or two. The top private hospitals in Bangkok boast foreign-trained and certified doctors and modern medical equipment. They offer an inexpensive alternative to visitors who may need procedures not covered by health insurance or who live in countries with long waiting lists for national health care. "We thought, listen, we have really excellent medical facilities here and we have excellent holidays," said Teerapol Chotichanapibal, director of Royal Orchid Holidays. "If you can come and get a clean bill of health and then go and enjoy your holiday, what could be better?"

So, in Royal Orchid's glossy "Discover Thailand" brochure, a traveler can choose from options that include a performance of classical dance, a visit to the River Kwai, a Thai cooking class or a seven-hour "Comprehensive Health Examination for Women or Men."

The country has 208 private hospitals, of which only 16 are recommended as suitable for foreigners, though the number is expected to grow. Visa procedures are simple for patients coming for medical treatment, though visitors from many countries are admitted without visas.

Thailand is now treating about one million patients from countries such as Japan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, China and the U.S., generating close to $ one billion in revenue. Apart from the U.S., where procedures and hospitalization typically cost four to 10 times as much, patients come from developed countries in Europe. Australians, come mostly for cosmetic surgery which are often combined with a conventional vacation.