“Medical Tourism,” now more accurately known as International Medical Care, continues to grow, shift and change simultaneously—with Thailand still as one of the leaders in the world market.
International development and the changes in economies has created a very fluid and changing landscape among sources of patients and sources of medical providers. Regions of previously high international patient volumes, such as the Middle East, are developing more medical resources locally to adjust to the economic drop in oil prices and in hopes of building more local capacity for their citizens. More developing and rising economies—for example China and a number of African countries–can now afford to seek a higher level of medical treatment abroad. While individual economies rise and fall the total number of patients seeking medical care internationally has continued to grow as have the billions of dollars spent yearly on International Medical Care.
In previous years a majority of medical travellers, especially Western travellers, sought Plastic Surgery procedures internationally in hopes of receiving high quality, safe surgery at a better price than they could find at home. In markets such as Thailand, which has established itself as a superior medical treatment hub, this trend has changed drastically. Plastic Surgery requests have fallen behind requests for more acute and intensive treatments such as minimally invasive spine surgery, joint replacement, State-of-the-Art cancer treatment and advanced cardiac care. Though prices are rising they are still well below those of Western countries and patients are able to make appointments immediately instead of waiting weeks or months to see a preferred specialist.
The availability of advanced Western medical technologies (Artificial Intelligence assistance-Watson for Oncology, Davinci Robotic Surgical equipment, 3 Tesla MRI scanners, Robotic Joint Replacement units-MAKOplasty, etc.) has been a major factor in Thailand’s rise to the top of the International Medical Treatment world. The availability of such technology, along with international clinical certification, is mandatory for any hospital to compete on a level of Western quality with internationally recognized hospitals such as Cleveland Clinic, Harvard University, Monah University and Johns Hopkins. Bumrungrad International Hospital, for instance, was ranked as the #6 best medical technology hospital in the world in 2015.
I believe that during the past five years, Thai international hospitals have met and now surpassed the quality of Singaporean medical care, previously considered the highest centre of medical excellence in Asia. Thailand has done so through the recruitment of top Thai physicians with international Board Certifications who have brought extensive international experience with them. Additionally, strong physician leadership and a focus on quality assurance–combined with traditional Thai customer service and Thai tourism—has brought increasing attention to Thai hospitals as a primary international medical destination. This level of patient attention, quality and service has rarely been duplicated even in “advanced” Western medical environments. Thailand now seems to be holding on to its title as the most popular international destination for sun, sea, sand…..and surgery.
Dr. Erik Fleischman is a licensed American physician and surgeon and the current International Medical Director and Director of International Business Development for Bumrungrad International Hospital. His international medical experience has taken him to 25 countries around the world in the public and private sectors of international medical care. He has worked as a Senior Advisor for the Clinton Foundation, a physician leader in the African Ebola crises and as a medical consultant and advisor for International SOS, Family Health International and a number of Fortune 500 companies on 4 continents.