Thailand: the next frontier in health & social care

Thailand the beautiful Southeast Asian country known for its beautiful tropical beaches, opulent royal palaces and ancient ruins is also a popular destination for medical tourism. Medical tourism is the activity of tourism, which refers to those individuals who travel abroad for medical treatment.

Thailand is a popular destination for medical tourism due to its cheaper healthcare costs, modern equipment and internationally trained doctors, which cost a fraction of the price you would find in a majority of countries in western society, such as the United Kingdom and United States. In addition, to the aforementioned benefits, other ‘pull factors’ for medical care seekers to Thailand are; shorter waiting times, better levels of care and the unhurried nature of staff in the fulfilment of care needs are all added bonuses; that many individuals seeking medical treatment believe make Thailand a better option in comparison to domestic alternatives.

The higher quality of care and medical treatment Thailand and other emerging Asian economies are able to offer has become visible on the international stage. Courtesy of countless blog posts, internet search results, testimonials and social media, the quality of care available at discounted prices has now been revealed to all, fuelling increased medical tourism each year.

A recent example of this is Thailand becoming an international hub for dementia care. Within Thailand at present, you will be able to find a plethora of facilities specialising in dementia care that are of British, Thai and Swiss ownership, with many receiving government or private investment.

In the UK, there are approximately 900,000 people that live and suffer with dementia in the United Kingdom. The cost of local authority residential care can cost up to £700 a week and private care equivalents up to a £1000. Aside from the costs, staff issues plague the care industry. In the UK there are no prescribed staff-to-guest ratios and the industry suffers from an annual staff turnover rate that exceeds 30%, with 100,000 job vacancies available at any time across the country. This existing problem alongside the pertinent issue of, the low level attractiveness of the care industry and competitive pay in comparison to jobs in others sectors, which are viewed to be less strenuous and have healthier work-life balances have all contributed to poor staffing. Consequently, the staff-to-guest ratio in the UK for public and private facilities are on average 1:6. Compared to Thailand where 1:1 is the standard, accompanied by around-the-clock residential care from qualified staff, at award-winning facilities that could be easily mistaken for a five star hotel, at the cost of £750 a week.

It would be misleading to paint a picture that depicts a large majority of individuals choosing to use care services in Thailand over residential homes available locally. However, it is evident that as the number of people living with dementia is set to increase, so will the cost of care. When this happens, it is likely many individuals will start to consider their options, and the option of medical tourism in countries like Thailand will be exercised more frequently. Paul Edwards, the director of clinical services at Dementia UK had the following thoughts regarding this new emerging market:

“It’s an emerging market, that I can foresee becoming more popular as time passes and our failing and ailing system fails to find a solution, causing fear for those with relatives who have no alternatives. I wholeheartedly believe nobody would intentionally want to export their relative to a different country. However we do all want the care that they are entitled to and unfortunately their local city is incapable of giving it to them”.

More on Thailand…

Thailand is a leader of health in south-east Asia region, with 99% of the population receiving free healthcare. The introduction of Universal Health Care (government subsidised care) has caused there be a significant drop in mortality rates. Research in 2013 indicated life expectancy had reached a peak of 74 years old, up from 54.7 years in 1964, with the latest figures to be published in 2016 showing life expectancy to be 75.30 years old.

Growing old fast!

According to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), the population of Thailand is ageing much faster than the rest of the world. The ratio of senior citizens to total population was 11% in 2005, by 2014 it had increased to 14% and it is estimated by 2025, the elderly will account for 25% of Thailand’s society.

The problem of an ageing population does create unique business opportunities within the health & social care sector. For example, a growing ageing population will require additional support in regards to; food provision, medical equipment, nursery and home-care services. At Eleanor Healthcare Group, we view this as a unique opportunity to not only provide healthcare services to residents of Thailand, but also to those individuals who visit Thailand for medical tourism purposes.

In addition to this, the healthcare sector is one of the main drivers and fastest growing economies in the country; leading consultancy PWC estimate Thailand’s total healthcare spending will reach £34.02 billion this year, increasing by a further 6% in 2021.

The foreseeable future

With continued public and private sector growth, there are many emerging players in the health & social care sector. The government of Thailand has also continued to encourage private hospitals to make further investments in research and development so the country can maintain its position as a leading medical tourism destination and to develop itself into a medical centre for the ASEAN region. In addition to this, the government of Thailand continues to look at news ways in which it is able to support the development of medical tourism; upgrading local hospitals to meet international standards and finding additional ways to offer medical care to foreign tourists that become sick when travelling.