The new era of medical tourism

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Thailand has always made big plans for the tourism sector but even more so now the Medical Tourism sector. Adapting to the new normal, Thailand is making provision to push ahead with promotion and has opened up its borders to medical tourists since the end of July.

Tourists traveling for medical procedures, had been one of the first groups of visitors who were able to enter the country since the ban on international arrivals in April this year. The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) states that medical tourist will be allowed entry into Thailand accompanied by up to three caregivers for only certain medical programs. However, patients seeking treatment for COVID-19, will not be permitted into the Kingdom.

History of Thailand Medical Tourism

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the annual number of people travelling abroad to purchase medical services are difficult to identify. Pre-Covid, there has been a rise in medical tourism in the past decade. The increasing costs of health care and the expansion of the middle class in many low- and middle-income countries have led to the boost of medical tourism.

Medical tourism has often been portrayed as involving patients from high-income countries travelling to access cheaper and better care in low- and middle-income countries. Some middle-income countries have been positioning themselves as the ‘Go To” destinations for medical tourism and Thailand is one most popular choice.

The Thai Ministry of Commerce estimated that, in 2006, 1.2 million medical tourists accessed health services in Thailand and provided an estimated revenue of approximately US$ 1.1 billion which was about 9% of Thailand’s total estimated revenue from tourism back in 2006. In 2011, it was estimated that revenues from medical tourists would generate the equivalent of 0.4% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP). Thailand became among the top five destinations of inbound medical tourism spending globally, according to the latest research by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The report titled “A Prescription for A Healthier Economy” shows international spending on medical tourism products and services grew by 358% in nominal terms between 2000 and 2017, increasing from US$2.4 billion (72.5 billion baht) to $11 billion. Despite such financial benefits, at present Thailand is toying between the fine balance of economic benefits of medical tourism and the possible dangers of opening up the country in the midst of a pandemic.

The new regulations

Foreign medical tourists are now permitted to apply to come to Thailand for medical treatment with strict disease control measures being put in place.

The Thailand Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration states Thailand’s medical and wellness tourism program has been resumed with the hope of attracting medical tourists back into the country. Under the CCSA regulations, medical tourists have to arrive by air to ensure effective disease control, not via land border checkpoints at this stage.

All visitors must have an appointment letter from a doctor in Thailand and entry certificates issued by Thai embassies across the globe. People wanting to visit Thailand for medical procedures at this time will need to contact the Thai Embassy in their country to organise the visa and paperwork. Thailand’s major hospitals will provide potential candidates with an appointment letter.

They will also need to produce proof that they tested negative and have been tested for Covid-19 within 72 hours of travel. Patients must undergo three separate COVID-19 screenings during their visit to Thailand. Once in Thailand they will be tested again and will be required to stay at the medical facility for at least 14 days, during which they will be able to start their chosen treatments. The quarantine location will depend on the expected duration of the medical treatment. A flow chart courtesy of https://thaiconsulatela.org/ indicates the procedures.

If treatments take less than 14 days, the remainder of their quarantine must be done at the facility where they’re receiving treatment. For treatments that are over 14 days, patients will be able to reside in an alternative hospital quarantine facility. Arrangements had been made for private and public hospitals to cater to medical tourists. However, those who test positive for COVID-19 will be treated in designated areas for foreigners at private facilities and have to pay for their own treatment.

Read the full article at Bangkok Post: https://www.bangkokpost.com/life/social-and-lifestyle/1990983/the-new-era-of-medical-tourism

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