Health Care in Thailand

by Jose Marc Castro on August 10, 2009

healthcareDUBAIMost people coming from the European and western countries have thought about relocating to Asia to learn more about the culture and the people. Like anyone else, it is important that before opting for relocation, as there are many important concerns that need to be thoroughly discussed, concerns that can help you with your stay in Asia.

One of the most preferred Asian countries for relocation is Thailand. This country has a rich historical and cultural background. However, there have been some concerns that expatriates should be aware of, especially the some issues of medical care in this country.

Officially called as the Kingdom of Thailand, this country is situated in Southeast Asia. On its south is the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos on its east, and Myanmar and the Andaman Sea on its west. The capital city of the Kingdom of Thailand is Bangkok.

Issues Concerning the Health Care System in Thailand

Before one thinks about relocating in Thailand, there are some issues regarding the health care system of this nation that has to be fully understood. These issues, although not intended to shoo away possible expatriates on the country, have to be properly understood.

Thailand has no established primary health care system- Most of the doctors in Thailand are specialists that is why it is hard to find a reliable all around general practitioner to treat you with your minor medical problems. As foreigners, you will have to go to a general hospital, wherein you will be most likely to be examined by a doctor who is specializing in one field to another. Since it is common to have different small medical problems, it is somehow difficult for a medical specialist to deal with that.

This issue was lamented in the Thailand Expat Forum last 25th March 2009:

Thanks for directing me to your post on medical! Scary that there is literally no insurance in country. That means we’re at the mercy of the hospitals and doctors and when they have you at a disadvantage you’re in trouble. I’m sorry about your friend but that makes my point I had a pretty bad accident in Australia a few years back – same thing. I paid probably 10x what I would have paid if I were insured. A lesson learned but it seems in Thailand that option isn’t available.

Any chance I could talk you out of the name of your dentist? It would be worth a Singha or two! The best way to do especially if you are not quite so sure about your problem is simply to seek an internist and simply take it from there. Reports have shown that the health care system heavily relies on the specialized medicine. However, there are still some major hospitals in Thailand that have family doctors or medical practitioners. Expatriates can always make use of that.

Another expat shared a similar experience in the Thailand Expat Forum last June 17, 2009:

As far as Care insurance here is concerned. Just try to get it if you are over a certain age……I was with BUPA in the UK for 30yrs, and when I told them I was coming to live here they wanted to double my weekly fees! I was more than I could easily afford, so I was forced to cancel my policy…..Now I have a ‘Health Account’ in the Bank. It is quite a large sum, but if I have a long debilitating illness, it will undoubtedly run out! So hopefully, I will have a massive Heart Attack and go quickly…….

All this is very depressing but one has to face up to harsh reality.

Most doctors in Thailand that work in hospitals do not actually do so fulltime as Thai surgeons and physicians have different working schedules at different hospitals that are spread over the whole of Bangkok. Because of this, doctors are likely to go from a certain hospital to another to do their rounds and also perform other medical procedures like surgery. Additionally, these doctors also have private clinics. They actually work altogether for very long hours. You could only imagine the problems they can create. Let’s say you just had a surgery done in one hospital and in one instance, problems arise after the surgery. There are possibilities that your surgeon might be performing a surgery in another hospital, or he is at his private clinic. So your doctor ends up solving your problem thru a mobile phone, giving instructions to the nursing staff. That’s quite alarming, isn’t it?

Emergency transport facilities in Thailand are not that fully developed yet. – Large hospitals in Thailand have mobile intensive care units where you could be immediately be treated for emergency situations. However, rarely do you emergency ambulances racing the streets of Bangkok. Although traffic accidents are attended to, volunteer organizations are normally the ones to provide rescue units, along with passers-by. The traffic problem in Thailand is one of the major impediments in emergency services. You cannot just expect them to provide optimal trauma and safe medicine, can you? Based from the Yellow pages of Thailand, their emergency hotline number is 1699 however, there have been no recent reports as to how the service works or if they really operate in the first place.

Main Obstacles in Medical Emergencies

In terms of emergency transports, the main obstacle in medical emergencies is the traffic in Bangkok. Unwanted delays are unavoidable, not unless you are in close proximity to a hospital. Cars do not give way that easily for responding ambulances. So if you have medical problems that need immediate attention in some situations, as much as possible, stay in a place near to a suitable hospital. Researchers could only expand the issue on this: How possible is it to develop emergency medicines when in the first place, no emergencies arrive in the hospitals?

Having a complete set-up to treat different controlled or stable condition is one thing. But being capable to deal with emergency procedures is another. Because developments of emergency medicines would normally rely on fast access to suitable hospitals most of the time, along with the availability of ambulances that can take you to the closest hospitals, Thailand is far from being there yet.

For those traffic accidents, you can always seek help from the Police Hospital at the Ratchaprasong Intersection.

Money is Important!

Most westerners are fortunate to have obligatory insurance, or assumed having a medical insurance. Still, when you are in Thailand, see to it that your cash or credit card is always ready, or at least, have on hand the most pertinent medical insurance documents. In cases of hospital admissions, you are required to pay up front for the treatments. There have been stories appearing in a local Thai newspaper about a young Thai couple that was turned down upon arriving in a private hospital, only to find out that cannot be accommodated just because they cannot show the money. This is somewhat a major ethical flaw in Thailand’s health care system.

Although general treatment and admission in private hospitals is quite pleasant, demanding for money up front just to be accommodated is just very impolite and inappropriate.

In most European countries, problems like these are normally avoided because in the first place, patients have obligatory medical insurance and hospitals are confident enough about getting paid.

Staying in Thailand is generally pleasant except for some health care issues that are quite concerning. In order to avoid this, before you relocate to this Southeast Asian country, see to it that you already have applied for an international health care system insurer. That way, you will not have to worry about anything, especially in medical emergencies.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

John Lukens November 28, 2010 at 5:59 am

Re: Thanks for directing me to your post on medical! Scary that there is literally no insurance in country. That means we’re at the mercy of the hospitals and doctors and when they have you at a disadvantage you’re in trouble. I’m sorry about your friend but that makes my point I had a pretty bad accident in Australia a few years back – same thing. I paid probably 10x what I would have paid if I were insured. A lesson learned but it seems in Thailand that option isn’t available.

My comment – You can expect to pay quite a bit out-of-pocket for medical care here. Two things will help lessen that cost: 1) ask first about the cost of care, because (unlike in the US) most doctors and hospitals will give you the cost of treatment; and 2) take good care of yourself, something a lot of expats here fail to do. The majority of health problems here are probably lifestyle-related.

Reply

john t meyer December 10, 2010 at 2:08 am

I am retired military, my wife (thai) and I are planning to move to Thailand until we can get her visa squared away. We currently live in St Louis and have Tricare health insurance. Tricare says we will be covered in Thailand, but we will have to be reinburst for what is spent at the doctors/hospital. Are you farmiliar with this type of insurance? If not do you know who I can talk to?

Reply

william draft January 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I am retired military and have been living in Thailand for approximately ten years. I am covered by Tricare. The process is straight forward.
You will pay the for your care upfront, ask for and receive a mecical care report , and a statement of costs from the hospital/ doctor.
You will send those documents along with a completed Tricare form to Tricare Overseas. Tricare will send directly to you a reimburesment , minus deductible etc. Just about everything you need to know is on the internet, including the required Tricare form. I have had no problems at all with the system.

Reply

John January 16, 2011 at 4:17 pm

This article is not quite correct . The medical care here in Thailand is very good and there are many doctors that will treat you and be your primary care doctor … as for insurance there are many choices here .. Most health care here is affordable and one can easly be self insured …

Reply

sj12345 January 31, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I agree with you and Thailand is better health care. I pay $600-$700 for healh care insurance per month in USA. It is not good care here in USA. I could see doctor anytime when I got sick in Thailand and not expensive. I had many nurses in Thailand than USA. I do not think article is correct as well. I lived in Thailand and it was wonderful when everything is not expensive.

Reply

Liz February 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I agree with you John. I, myself work in insurance company..
There is many choices depending on how much privilege you required in the hospital sevices..

Reply

Heiko Marquard February 27, 2011 at 3:20 am

My private german health insurance covers only Europe, so that I am, most time living with my wife in Thailand, without any protection.

Reply

Heiko Marquard February 27, 2011 at 3:38 am

My private Health Insurance Allianz only covers me in european contries. Since i am married, I will stay for longer time in Thailand without any protection.

Reply

mekkala April 30, 2011 at 4:46 am

for those expats out there worried about health care, and the fact that their overseas insurance will no longer cover them, why not get insurance in Thailand, there are health insurance companies, such as AIA, BUPA thailand, and many many more they also do accident insurance, mine costs me 2,500 baht per year, and covers 50,000 baht per incident, luckily there haven't been many but accidents happen.the best is that you don't have to wait as it is thai insurance and the hospitals contact them directly or in the case of accident you just show your card and give a copy of your passport or picture id, when going to a thai hospital you must show proof of who you are thai or expat, thai driving license's are great proof as they have your picture on and your passport number.

Reply

Paul Holbourne January 9, 2013 at 6:51 am

If you are over 61 years old, forget insuring with BUPA; similar story for other insurers too!

Reply

Dr.Sanjeev George August 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm

can an Mbbs doctor from india work in thailand? What are the pre requisites?Thanks for any help anyone can give

Reply

Rick August 31, 2011 at 5:20 am

I have lived in Thailand for over 27 months in the last 6 years. During that time I went through the Tsunami was in a car and motorcycle accident and I will tell you one thing the health care I received was far superior to the health care I received in Canada. As a matter of fact I would not be alive in Canada today if a Thai doctor had not diagnosed the reason behind my high blood pressure. When they do a blood test it is complete and they do not rely on guesswork. Another point they are not nearly as quick with the prescription pad!

Reply

mikechudej September 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Health care in Thailand is approximately 1/8 of that in the USA. That's why over 500,000 foreigners come to Thailand every year for their medical needs. This is private medical treatment, too. The not so good is medical care provide by the government but that is the same every where.

I am agree with you Rick, Doctors here don't just give out prescription that quick.

Reply

Dr Pong October 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Sorry to say that you are wrong about thailand health care system. I am a doctor that work and teach in public hospital. Basically, the instrument and equipment can be comparable with the middle class or upper class of private hospital. I work in both public and one of the best private hospital that passed JCI accredit. Nowaday, Public hospital open special OPD between 16.30-20.00 everyday to everybody that pay only 300 baht for doctor fee. And the cost of medical bill is cheaper than any private hospital. you will get almost the same standard of treatment like in private hospital because we have good quality nurse to take care by sharing more time with you than in the office hour that there are so many or too many patients for a few nurse.

Reply

Peter April 28, 2012 at 8:48 am

Hi Dr Pong. Thank you or the above information can you please help me.I have a son living in Phuket married a lovely Thai Girl they have 1 daughter 1 yr old and expecting No 2. Rather than give money for Christmas Presents etc. .I wish to buy for the family medical cover how would you advise me to start as I live in UK?

Regards

Peter

Reply

james December 8, 2011 at 9:16 am

hi

This seems like a great initiative. Speaking personally, I use the internet to get more information about medication and I am often unsure how reliable the information is. A single portal to reliable sites would be a great help in this area

Reply

Rachel February 10, 2012 at 4:24 am

.There's a hospital in Thailand that have Insurance company partners .Like in Vejthani Hopsital.. I really had the best experience in this hospital and mind that. it's very cheap compare to US but the Facilities and their services really the same..

JM

Reply

ArielS July 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

This artical isn't quite right. Thailand has well established health care system. You have freedom to choose where to go, who to see, public or private. No appointment needed but it will be quicker if you made one. There are general practitioners who deal with minor injuries, minor abnormalities as well as health checks. The receptionists in the hospitals in Thailand are mostly nurses as a result they choose to transfer patients to specialists if they already knew what your problems are. Another good thing is you don’t need to go get your prescriptions somewhere else, you will get them all from the hospital which makes life a lot easier when you are not well.

Moreover, most hospitals in Thailand have emergency wards which open 24/7 for any minor/major injuries. These are not even require hours of waiting because there are a few options for patients in each city. For example, when I was studying in Thammasat University, Pratumthani province which wasn't a big city but not far from Bangkok. There were 3 big local hospitals there, 1 public in university campus itself and 2 privates. One of my friends had a really bad stomachache. We decided to go to private hospital just opposite campus. It was really quick and easy judging from the fact that we just popped in. She had got her weight checked, blood pressure checked, heartbeats, nose, eyes, ears and finally her abdomen. She collected prescription there and paid the money which I didn’t remember it was a fortune. Another time was one of my friends drunk and knocked his head with the window frame in the middle of the night. He was bleeding a lot so we took him to emergency ward in public hospital on campus. Waiting no longer than 10 minutes and he got his wound cleaned and sewn up properly, no infection and all free. I don’t know why it was free though. Probably because he is Thai student?

In my opinion the only issue for foreigners is communication. How would you tell the nurses what is wrong with you? Normally you will find Thai people are lovely and always happy to help but if you don’t know anybody, going to private hospital has better chance they would speak English. It just costs more. You can also sort your health insurance with any company you like. Just check the policy what it covers. Like I said at the beginning, in Thailand you have freedom.

Reply

TJ August 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm

This is awful!!! Something needs to change. The country is in despair and poor people are not being treated with proper care or any care at all for that matter. How can a country let 10’s of thousands people die just becuase they couldn’t afford $6 for medication. Why does this country have no sympathy for man kind. Why can’t they make it so specialists like doctors, nurse & staff do get paid to do what they do. Educate people in schools & Universities. The country needs to really think this through and fix the health system because it is distasteful and disgusting in what they are doing to their people. We are in 2014, something has to change, something needs to change -take a look around and fix the problem.

Reply

Andrew Lim February 4, 2016 at 11:27 am

This article is very useful and informative especially to foreigners who might want to try the health care in Thailand. Anyways, just like in any country if you really want the best budget is the no. 1 consideration. You may find this post a good read as well http://bangkok.klapsons.com/healthcare-guide-in-bangkok/

Reply

Paibul Suriyawongpaisal April 9, 2016 at 3:37 am

For those interested in quality of ambulance prehospital care in Thailand, this academic report might be useful: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25797471. In brief, there is no evidence supporting fruitful contribution of organized ambulance services in urban settings in Thailand in case of emergency conditions.

Reply

Cancel reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: