Underdog Thailand Is Medical Tourism Favourite

With medical expenses on a steady rise, affordable markets such as Thailand are becoming popular

Bumrungrad International has over 1.1 million visitors every year from 190 countries. Apart from 21 VIP suites, multiple restaurants, two Starbucks, and a McDonald’s, it also has a dedicated travel desk, airport shuttle, and 200 language interpreters. A top luxury hotel, perhaps? No. The Bangkok-based Bumrungrad is Southeast Asia’s largest private hospital, boasting revenue of about $350 million and EBITDA margins of nearly 22% in 2021.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted virtually every industry all over the world. Medical tourism, too, has been reeling under the impact. But as the world learns to live with this virus, patients are slowly returning to Southeast Asia. With its affordable healthcare advantage, key markets such as Thailand and Singapore are popular destinations.

But why Thailand?

In a perfect world, the most effective medical services would be accessible to all. But that’s not the case. One night at a hospital in Switzerland sets you back by $1,221, while the same costs $811 in Singapore and just $54 in Thailand.

Surgery costs also differ drastically. An angioplasty costs $28,200 in the United States. The treatment expenses fall to $13,400 in Singapore, and in Thailand, it costs $4,200. That makes Thailand the most cost-effective option in this region.

According to reports, the global medical tourism industry was valued at $11.6 billion in 2019 and will grow to $53.5 billion by 2028. So, unsurprisingly, hospitals are doing everything to ensure foreign patients turn to them as their first, last, and only option.

In the pre-pandemic period, medical tourists spent $600 million in Thailand, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Even basic testing procedures such as MRIs are cheaper. An MRI scan in the US costs $2,611 on average, while it is priced between $250-1,100 in Thailand. In Singapore, it costs upwards of $1,200.

Medical treatment costs (2019) in US $

Procedure

USA

India

Thailand

Singapore

Coronary Angioplasty

28200

5700

4200

13400

Heart Bypass

123000

7900

15000

17200

Hip Replacement

40364

7200

17000

13900

Gastric Bypass

25000

7000

16800

13700

Hysterectomy

15400

3299

3650

10400

Lasik (2 eyes)

4000

1000

2310

3800

Dental implant

2500

900

1720

2700

Breast implant

6400

3000

3500

8400

Source : Medical Tourism Association (MTA), Krungsri Research

The underdog rises

It’s working, especially in Thailand. Before Covid-19 led to lockdowns globally, the country played host to over 3.5 million international patients a year who ran up tabs of $600 million. Bumrungrad was the first hospital in the country to get the Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation—considered the gold standard in healthcare certification—back in 2002. Now, there are 59 such organisations in Thailand, compared with five in Singapore.

Thailand scores heavily on the cost advantage, while Singapore has always been the pricey option. But that doesn’t stop it from being the second most popular destination across the world for medical tourism, according to the Medical Tourism Index. About half a million people land up in the tiny island nation every year, seeking world-class healthcare. For organ transplants, oncology, and neurology treatments especially, Singapore remains the preferred destination.

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