Thailand Medical Tourism Undermining Public Hospitals?

Every year, more than 1.6 million foreigners are treated in Thai hospitals , with an estimated 500,000 travelling specifically for medical treatment unavailable or too expensive in their own country.

Thailand’s medical tourism industry got a jumpstart after the 1997 Asian financial crisis that pushed many hospitals into bankruptcy.

The government, with remaining hospitals promoted their facilities abroad to revive the sector, but with higher salaries in private hospitals, public ones found themselves quickly in shortage of doctors.

Doctor’s salary in a private clinic is about 8 to 10 times more than in a state hospital. Economists warn that private expansion will result in greater wage inflation in the state-run sector.

The most affected of medical shortage are rural areas where most doctors have left for the capital, Bangkok already has 8 times as many doctors per capita as the worst served rural region.

In spite of strong economic growth, around 4% annually a recent government report indicates that almost one in five people work for a dollar a day. Some local critics have alleged that the increase in medical tourism has stolen away the best Thai doctors to treat foreign patients so most of those who have low incomes turn now to cheaper traditional medicine instead.

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