Healthcare in Thailand

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One of the most popular Asian countries for relocation is Thailand. The country has a rich historical and cultural background. However, there are some concerns that expatriates should be aware of, and one of these is the issue of healthcare.

The healthcare system

Most of the doctors in Thailand are specialists; that is why it may be hard to find a reliable all-round general practitioner to treat you for minor medical problems. As an expatriate, you will have to go to a general hospital, where you will most likely be examined by a doctor who is a specialist in one field or another. Since it may be common to have a number of smaller medical conditions, it may be difficult for a medical specialist to deal with these. The best way, especially if you are not quite sure of your problem(s), is simply to seek an internist as your first port of call. However, it should be noted that there are still some major hospitals in Thailand that have family doctors or medical practitioners.

Most doctors in Thailand do not have one specific place of work. Thai surgeons and physicians have different working schedules at different hospitals that can be spread over the whole of Bangkok. Because of this, doctors are likely to go from one hospital to another to do their rounds. Additionally, these doctors may also have private clinics. In light of this, they tend to work very long hours. It is not difficult to imagine the problems that this could cause. For example, if you just had surgery and a problem arises, there is the possibility that your surgeon might be performing another surgery in a different hospital, or he may be at his private clinic. This may result in your doctor trying to solve the situation over the phone. 

A national health insurance scheme, the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) covers 76% of the population. Other public funding includes a Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme (CSMBS) covering 7% of the population, the Worker Compensation Scheme (WCS) and the Social Security Scheme (SSS) covering 15%. Domestic private insurance schemes exist for employees of larger companies.

A migrant health insurance scheme is available for purchase by registered non-Thai local migrants who have a work permit, however the majority do not take advantage and remain without cover of any kind.

Obstacles in medical emergencies

Emergency transport facilities in Thailand are not yet fully developed. Large hospitals in Thailand have mobile intensive care units where you can be have immediate treatment in emergency situations. However, you will rarely see an ambulance racing the streets of Bangkok. Although traffic accidents are attended to, volunteer organisations are normally the ones to provide rescue units. Passers by will also assist in emergencies. For traffic accidents, you can always seek help from the Police Hospital at the Ratchaprasong Intersection (if you are in the area).

In terms of emergency transport, the main obstacle in medical emergencies is the traffic in Bangkok.

Unwanted delays are unavoidable, unless you are in close proximity to a hospital. Generally speaking, cars do not automatically give way to responding ambulances. Therefore, if you have a medical condition that may need immediate attention, where possible, stay in a place which is near to a suitable hospital.

Having a health service that is able to treat controlled and stable conditions is one thing, but being capable of dealing with emergency procedures is another. Unfortunately, Thailand needs some major improvements in this regard.

Money is important   

When you are in Thailand, it is important to have your medical insurance documents with you; either that or another form of payment. In the case of a hospital admission, you will be required to pay up front for the treatments. It appears that money plays an even larger part than normal when discussing the healthcare system of Thailand.

For expatriates and foreign visitors, doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment or a high deposit for services. Private hospitals may ask to see proof of funds if the patient is not insured. Most hospitals will recognise international private medical insurance, however the patient is required to pay any outstanding balance beyond coverage limits before being discharged from hospital. It is recommended that you avail of private health insurance when considering Thailand as a place to visit or live.

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