Wongkit and McKercher define medical tourism as a “phenomenon of people traveling internationally to seek a wide spectrum of medical treatments” (Wongkit and McKercher, 2015). Some scholars believe that economic downturn is the reason why people look to other countries for medical procedures (Wongkit and McKercher, 2015), while others point to globalisation and the free flow of goods and services (Lunt et al, 2012). Regardless of its origins, medical tourism has allowed a variety of Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to diversify further into the global medical sector. For Thailand, the introduction of medical tourism has provided numerous economic, technological and medical benefits.
Thailand’s medical tourism boom was initiated in the 2000s by private hospitals advertising in foreign countries due to the decline in local patients (Connell, 2006). With government investment in high-tech medical equipment and quality medical infrastructures (Tourism Thailand, 2015), as well as an increased standard of training for hospital staff, the country’s medical sector began to flourish. Thailand’s tourism industry also benefitted from the medical tourism boom. A study conducted by Noree et al found that in 2012, each tourist visiting Thailand would spend a mean of $803.35 USD, while medical tourists and their companions each spend over three times that figure in the same year (Noree et al, 2015).
Visiting Bumrungrad Hospital
Bumrungrad Hospital is one of the first Asian hospitals to receive the prestigious Joint Commission International certification for providing its patients high quality health care services (Eden, 2012). Founded in 1980, the hospital serves over 1.1 patients a year, with over 520,000 of those international patients, and boasts a highly trained multi-national team of medical professionals and hospital administrators (Bumrungrad International Hospital , n.d.). The hospital’s facilities, from the welcome center to the medical rooms, are very impressive and welcoming.
One of the most impressive features of Bumrungrad Hospital is the high level of service that it offers medical tourists. Bumrungrad Hospital’s International Medical Director Dr. Peter Morley points to Thai people’s caring and giving nature for the world class service that Bumrungrad Hospital delivers. Prior to travelling to Thailand, potential patients are able to consult freely with Bumrungrad International’s overseas referral officers to ensure that they have all the information needed. Upon arrival to the hospital, Bumrungrad cultural support officers who are fluent in languages such as English, Arabic, French, Korean, and German, are available for international patients to use regarding matters such as visa extensions, accommodation, and airport transfers. Bumrungrad Hospital offers almost every medical procedure in the book, from hip replacements, cochlear implants and spinal fusions (Bumrungrad International Hospital , n.d.). The only procedures the hospital does not offer are stem cell surgeries, live liver transplants, and abortions and euthanasia (both illegal in Thailand).
Medical tourism today
Aside from the high standard of care provided by Thai hospitals, medical tourists are drawn to seek treatment in Thailand because of the lower cost of medical treatment, the availability of recuperation facilities and elective surgeries, and the high reputation of Thailand’s tourist attractions (Altin et al, 2011). Unfortunately, catering to millions of medical tourists flocking to Thailand each year are starting to cause tension within certain Thai sectors. Earnings from the medical industry grow at a rate of 16% per year, with earnings estimated to be over $3 billion USD in 2015 (International Medical Travel Journal, 2015). The popularity of the medical industry is causing price hikes in Thailand’s healthcare system, and many Thais are no longer able to afford private health care (Finch, 2014). The 80% of Thailand’s population that rely on basic government health care are also affected, as staffing levels from state hospitals are being undermined by larger hospitals that cater to medical tourists (Finch, 2014). While Thailand strives to increase its economic strengths by providing first class medical care to international patients, its own citizens are being left behind. It is therefore the Thai government’s next challenge to find a more sustainable plan wherein the health of its citizens is not compromised by the growth of its medical tourism industry.
Altin, M., Singal, M., & Kara, D. (2011). Consumer decision components for medical tourism: A stakeholder approach. In Proceedings of the 16th annual graduate education and graduate student research conference in hospitality and tourism. Houston, TX: Conrad N Hilton College.
Bumrungrad International Hospital. (n.d.). Corporate Information. Viewed 04/08/2016 https://www.bumrungrad.com/en/about-us/overview
Bumrungrad International Hospital. (n.d.). Procedures & Tests. Viewed 04/08/2016 https://www.bumrungrad.com/en/medical-procedures-thailand
Connell, J. (2006). Medical tourism: Sea, sun, sand and . . . surgery. Tourism Management, 27(6), 1093–1100. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2005.11.005
Eden, C. (2012). The Rise of medical tourism in Bangkok. Viewed 01/08/2016 http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20120828-the-rise-of-medical-tourism-in-bangkok
Finch, S. (2014). Medical tourism driving health care disparity in Thailand. Canadian Medical Association. Jan 7; 186 (1): E11
International Medical Travel Journal. (2015). Thai Medical Tourism to Increase in 2015. Viewed 05/08/2016 https://www.imtj.com/news/thai-medical-tourism-increase-2015/
Lunt, N., Smith, R., Exworthy, M., Green, S., Horsfall, D., and Mannion, R. (2012). Medical Tourism: Treatments, Markets and Health System Implications: A scoping review. Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.
Noree, T., Hanefeld, J., and Smith, R. (2016). Medical tourism in Thailand: a cross-sectional study. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation. Jan 2016; 94 (1): 30-36.
Tourism Thailand. (2015). Health and Wellness: Why Thailand?. Viewed 27/07/2016 http://healthandwellness.tourismthailand.org/
Wongkit, M. and McKercher, B. (2016). Desired Attributes of Medical Treatment and Medical Service Providers: A Case Study of Medical Tourism in Thailand. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing. 33:1, 14-27, DOI: 10.1080/10548408.2015.1024911