Thai hospitals leading ASEAN in medical industry growth


As trade and investment barriers fall across Southeast Asia, Thailand’s hospitals have established an impressive lead in driving the growth of the region’s medical and health care industries, treating over 2 million foreign patients since 2012 and with a growth rate of 21 percent a year during that period.

Those figures clearly outpace Singapore and Malaysia, the Kingdom’s closest competitors in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Although Singapore has also registered impressive growth in its hospital and health care sectors in recent years, it treated 850,000 foreign patients during the same period, while Malaysia treated 700,000 even though it established a special organization to promote its healthcare industry in 2009. The Philippines followed in fourth place with just 81,000 patients, despite the widespread use of English in that country.

Most analysts attribute the success of the Thai hospital and healthcare industries to their high quality of care and their low cost of services, especially when prices are compared to those in many developed countries. Even Western countries with socialized medicine, such as England, have seen a significant number of patients traveling to Thailand for care because of the lack of waiting times for elective surgeries and procedures.

“In terms of the quality of doctors and medical development, Thailand is ranked just behind Japan. Our prolonged and biggest problem is the lack of new research and development,” Pongpat Patanavanich, president of the Private Hospital Association, told The Nation newspaper.

But Thailand does face challenges in this field. Thailand produces two doctors and 12 nurses per 100,000 people each year, just one-third to one-fourth the rate of Singapore. The Philippines produces six times as many nurses.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has forecast that ASEAN, with a population of over 620 million people, will see a steadily increasing need for more medical services, doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals in coming years.

Pongpat is urging the Thai government to develop a master plan to help Thai hospitals expand across the region and capitalize on the new ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which is removing barriers between the 10 member states on trade, investment, labor and services.

Thai hospitals have already been expanding into less developed neighboring countries with less healthcare resources, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. Several also have representative offices in the Middle East. The Kingdom has 32 hospitals that have been accredited by the Joint Commission International, the most recognized accrediting organization in the industry worldwide.

Thailand has also been recognized for its domestic universal healthcare program, which has provided services for low-income people across the Kingdom since 2001. The program has periodically come under the spotlight because of the challenges of funding it, with some members of the current government recently voicing concern about its sustainability.

But Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha put any fears about the program to rest last week, saying the program is here to stay. He added, however, that a greater emphasis should be placed on prevention services so as to reduce the need for curative care.