Voyageur, Jan-Feb-Mar 2021 issue

Page 26

Healthcare in Thailand- Where’s the Potential?


s Yogi Berra famously quipped, predictions are hard, especially about the future. One year ago, nobody would have believed it would be a low tech (or no tech) mask that would get us through the current pandemic. But we still need to rely on vaccines and other technology solutions for a permanent fix. Let’s consider what’s on the horizon in general for healthcare. Healthcare is on the cusp of major transformation. Globally, three forces are occurring simultaneously: • Ageing demographics • Sophistication of medical tools and treatment • Digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) What’s the realistic expectation for Thailand?

Thailand’s ‘Great Leap’ Opportunity

If access to affordable medical and healthcare treatment in the destination country is secure too, then lifestyle is only further measured by the availability of daily luxuries. Thailand’s tropical climate with a relatively reasonable cost of living is attractive for the elderly and retirees, all of whom are candidates for medical and ongoing healthcare treatment. As well, Thailand is one of those rare countries that attracts repeat travelers because of its diversity – the big city living of Bangkok, the mountainous north and the beachy south. In 2019, Bangkok ranked first in the world, surpassing Paris and London in Mastercard’s list of Global Destination Cities Index 2019 with 22.78 million visitors. Phuket was 14th with 9.89 million visitors. And the U.S. News' 2017 Best Countries report ranked Thailand at 4th globally for adventure value and 7th for cultural heritage.

The ageing population in Thailand points to a growing domestic market that will need more medical and healthcare treatment. Elderly folks are most at risk for disease and disability. The proportion of older persons in total population will increase from 16.9% in 2016, 23.8% in 2025, and nearly 30% by 2050.

Surprisingly, with those laudatory credentials, Thailand’s ‘Top 10 Arrivals by Country’ only include two Western countries: Russia and the U.S. It seems then, that Western countries are not yet a fully tapped market.

In addition to serving the domestic demand for medical services, Thailand is a leader in medical tourism - serving travelers for annual check-ups, “snip, sew and go” operations, and other medical procedures.

In sum, Thailand is well positioned to attract healthcare tourism from the West: • Western countries - retirement and medical costs are high, climate temperature is low • Thailand - retirement and medical costs are low, climate temperature is high

Thailand’s bigger potential for growth, however, is healthcare tourism for the ageing. This would mean a paradigm shift from short term event-based care to longer term process care. The shift is worth considering because according to the U.N., the number of persons aged 65 years or over in the world is projected to double to 1.5 billion in 2050. Everyone wants to age productively – a longer lifespan with better lifestyle. Lifestyle is a matter of personal choice, but most people in the West would agree that escaping winter months, which can be hard on the elderly, is desirable. Just ask a Canadian if they prefer the bone-chilling weather that still lingers into late March or the savannah warmth of Thailand.

26 January-February-March 2021

What Will it Take? It’s a no brainer: Demographics drive the potential for a healthcare ecosystem that caters to the elderly. But building an ecosystem requires the alignment of policies across several government ministries. A coordinated regulatory framework will provide a foundation from which to accommodate and accelerate sophisticated technology solutions in healthcare. To attract a greater inflow of healthcare travelers, the ecosystem requires: • Immigration policies and visas that cater to long term stays tied to minimum healthcare- spend thresholds

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