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Generally, healthcare in Thailand is of a high standard, although Thailand presents the unique medical problem that most of the doctors in the country are specialists. For this reason, it may be difficult to find a reliable general practitioner to treat minor medical issues.
Compared with the US and Western Europe, healthcare is cheaper in Thailand. Although foreigners working in Thailand have access to free public care, most expats opt for private treatment, as private facilities offer faster and higher quality treatment.
A national health insurance system, the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) provides free public healthcare through the Ministry of Public Health. Expats working in Thailand are covered by the UCS and their contribution to the scheme is deducted from their salary. Once enrolled in the system, new arrivals are assigned to hospitals where they will receive treatment.
Although doctors in public hospitals are excellent, waiting times for treatment can be slow and medical equipment is often out of date. A further issue is that care is restricted to specific hospitals that patients are assigned to.
Private care in Thailand is excellent and private hospitals have highly qualified staff as well as sophisticated medical facilities. Although Thai private care is much more expensive than public care, it is still comparatively cheaper than the cost of equivalent medical services in the US and Western Europe. This has led to Thailand becoming a popular destination for medical tourism.
Many expats prefer private healthcare because the quality of care is typically better, expats have greater choice in deciding where they will be treated, there are shorter waiting times to receive treatment and because private facilities are staffed with a higher proportion of English speakers. As private hospitals often require proof of funds if a patient is not insured, those without international health insurance may face delays in receiving treatment.
Pharmacies and medicine
Pharmacies are extremely common in Thailand’s urban centres, but are rarer in rural areas.
There are many medications which are unavailable without a prescription in Western countries, but which may be bought over the counter at a Thai pharmacy.
Many Thai pharmacists speak English and pharmacies are open until late into the night, with some 24-hour pharmacies operating in cities like Bangkok. Pharmacies can also be found attached to many hospitals.
Thailand presents some health hazards. In some areas there is a risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases such as Japanese encephalitis, malaria and dengue fever. Expats should consider taking malaria tablets and should also avoid mosquito bites by sleeping under a mosquito net and wearing trousers and long-sleeved shirts. Apart from mosquitoes, care should be taken to avoid typhoid, which can be contracted through contaminated food or water.
Otherwise, a further health risk is the high level of air pollution in some Thai cities such as Bangkok, which can aggravate respiratory conditions.
Emergency services and important numbers
Emergency transport facilities in Thailand are not yet fully developed and response times in urban areas are greatly frustrated by levels of traffic. Practically, this means that it might be faster for expats to make their own way to treatment facilities.
When contacting an ambulance, expats may experience language barrier issues, as government emergency service operators don’t necessarily speak English. There are private ambulances that cater to English speakers and some private hospitals operate their own ambulances.
The medical emergency service number is 1669, while 191 will contact the police, while 1155 is an emergency number dedicated to helping foreigners in Thailand.