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In Thailand, there are both public and private hospitals, though the public sector remains predominant. Healthcare standards in Thailand can be viewed as good overall, though there are disparities. As treatment is generally provided with good value for money, many foreign nationals from Asia come to Thailand for medical tourism.
All doctors in Thailand speak English to a more or less acceptable degree, but language issues may arise for everything else. This can be for anything like talking to nurses, calling an emergency helpline, or looking for information that is available in Thai only.
If you are not happy with Thailand’s healthcare system, you can still consider postponing treatment until after you leave Thailand. In any event, you must go to a Thai hospital if you have an emergency.
The cost of medical treatment in Thailand is quite low, especially if you compare it with the US or Hong Kong. Therefore, many expats may consider getting elective treatment during their stay in Thailand.
For a same medical necessity, the fees may vary greatly. The public sector is generally the cheapest, the most crowded, and the least comfortable. The fees are quite low though, and they can go as low as 1/3 of the price you would pay in Western Europe. If you are insured under Thailand’s Social Security Scheme, public hospitals may also be part of the registered hospitals wherein you would be entitled to free healthcare services.
In world-class, private sector hospitals, i.e. the hospitals expats are keener to go to, there is a lot of money made from the expat customer base. While such hospitals have modern equipment, highly trained staff and comfortable premises, their fees can go up to double the amount you could have paid in Western Europe.
Generally, the fee structures should be clear enough for the patient. There is no “random pricing” in Thai hospitals.
Finding a doctor
You should look for a good general practitioner (GP) in your local area as soon as possible. If you have health insurance, your insurer may have something to help you find a GP, or even a 24-hour medical helpline.
Thailand has a genuine GP shortage, because most doctors in Thailand are specialists. That being said, you still need an appointment before seeing a specialist, whereas you usually don’t when you go to the GP.
In Thailand, doctors are often mobile, stuck in traffic jams, and they generally do not have an office. Their working days are very long. Even surgeons work in several hospitals, public or private.
From the patient’s perspective, the biggest concern is that the matter may end up having to be resolved over the telephone.
Because of the GP shortage, you might wish to go a general hospital for medical issues that could have been dealt with by your GP in your home country.
Those who can afford it – including expats – generally go to private hospitals or clinics. This is primarily because the private sector has shorter waiting times and more beds per patient. It is also possible to go to a public hospital and pay extra for a more comfortable room.
Otherwise, don’t expect a hospital stay in Thailand to be a comfortable experience, as public hospitals usually put several patients together in the same room. Longer waiting times may apply as well.
From a medical perspective, it can make sense to rely on public hospitals in Thailand. Be aware, however, that many hospitals – especially outside of Bangkok – do not have the required equipment and staff to deal with major trauma. Accordingly, being close a reputable hospital in Bangkok can be a reasonable selection criterion when you are looking forward to spending your retirement in Thailand.
Pregnancy care is generally included in Thai health insurance policies, provided you have been insured for a minimum period (up to 10 months). This is also included in the maternity benefits under the Social Security Scheme.
Many vaccinations are not mandatory in Thailand, so you might wish to ask for the recommended vaccines if you have a baby in Thailand. In general, a health record should be issued by the hospital as well. This document will track all the vaccines, and it must be presented at each doctor consultation in Thailand until the new born reaches 18 years old.
Under Thai law, abortion is permitted only if the pregnancy:
If you need to buy medicines, you should look for a pharmacy in your local area. Not all medicines require a prescription. Pain killers or even antibiotics can be sold over-the-counter.
It is Thailand’s policy to ensure a supply of affordable drugs in Thailand. Consequently, you might see a lot of generic drugs imported from India available in Thailand’s pharmacies. Such a policy is said to have halved the price of the medicines in question.
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