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Phuket eyes “huge’ medical tourism boom



PHUKET: Medical and healthcare providers on the island can expect to get a large slice of the 402.9 billion baht that the Ministry of Health (MoH) expects Thailand’s medical tourism industry to rake in over the next five years.

Phuket Public Health Office Deputy Director Dr Wiwat Seetamanotch said, “Over the past five years, Phuket has enjoyed great success in health services provided to tourists and earned a huge amount of money as Phuket is a world tourist destination that not only is beautiful in nature, but also complete in accommodations, food and transportation.

“In addition, health services here are cheaper than in neighboring countries,” he said.

The MoH, according to its current five-year plan for 2010 to 2014, expects to generate the 400-billion-baht windfall whilst spending only 3.13 million baht in developing the services that are to garner the revenues.

The preceding plan, for 2004-2008, concentrated on providing medical services to patients from abroad. Under that plan, the MoH aimed to make Thailand a “Center of Excellent Health Care of Asia”, through treatment businesses, health supplement businesses, health products and Thai herbs.

The current plan targets developing the same businesses and products, but adds more services in the realms of Thai traditional medicine and alternative medicine.

The move follows Thailand’s enjoyment of huge growth in its medical tourism over the past decade.

According to MoH statistics, 550,161 foreign patients received treatment or healthcare in Thailand in 2001, but in 2007 that number had swelled to 1,373,807. Most were Japanese, followed by Americans and Europeans.

More than 70% of the foreign patients during that period were medical tourists, with 25% being expatriates and less than 5% being tourists who came to Thailand but not expressly for medical or health care.

The most popular health services during that year were health checks, heart operations, knee replacements, cardiovascular surgery, plastic surgery, gender reassignment surgery, dental care and Lasik corrective eye surgery.

Dr Wiwat expects the number of medical tourists to Phuket to increase dramatically in the coming years.

“In the next 20 years, the number of elderly people in the world will rise by 18% to 20% – or one in five of the world’s population. That is an enormous market,” he said.

“In addition to three government hospitals in Phuket, there are also three private ones that are recognized as international standard.

“Some countries have problems with long queues for operations and it sometimes takes two to three years for people to receive treatment. So many tourists choose Phuket because of the international-standard services available here, and it’s cheaper with shorter queues – they are our prominent points,” he added.

— Atchaa Khamlo


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