Healthcare in Thailand – Where's the potential?
MARKET PLACE: HUMAN RESOURCE WATCH
published : 30 Dec 2020 at 15:41
writer: Greg Beatty
Predictions are hard, especially about the future. One year ago, nobody would have believed it would be facemasks that would get us through the current pandemic. But we still need vaccines and technology solutions for a permanent fix.
What's on the horizon in general for healthcare? Three forces are occurring simultaneously:
- Ageing demographics
- Sophistication of medical tools and treatment
- Digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI)
What's realistic for Thailand?
Thailand's 'Great Leap' Opportunity
The ageing population 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 will increase from 16.9% in 2016 to nearly 30% by 2050.
In addition to the domestic demand for medical services, Thailand is a leader in medical tourism – serving travellers for annual check-ups, wellness solutions and medical treatments.
Thailand's bigger potential, however, is healthcare tourism for the ageing demographic which is evident in the emerging investments made by both medical and non-medical groups here. 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 with a good quality of life – 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.
If access to medical and healthcare treatment is affordable, then lifestyle is only further measured by the availability of daily luxuries and high-quality services.
Thailand's tropical climate and reasonable cost of living is attractive for the elderly and retirees, all of whom are candidates for medical treatment and ongoing healthcare management. In addition, Thailand offers diversity – the big city living of Bangkok, the mountainous north and the beachy south.
In 2019, Bangkok ranked 1st 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.
Surprisingly, Thailand's 'Top 10 Arrivals by Country' only include two Western countries: Russia and the U.S. Thus, the full potential of the Western market could be further tapped.
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
What Will it Take?
Demographics drive the potential for a healthcare ecosystem that caters to the elderly. But building an ecosystem requires policy alignment across several ministries. A coordinated regulatory framework will provide a foundation from which to accommodate sophisticated technology solutions in healthcare.
To attract more healthcare travellers, the ecosystem requires:
- Immigration policies and visas that cater to long term stays tied to minimum healthcare- spend thresholds
- Tie-ins with insurance and governmental health policy coverage from their country of origin, so that risk is covered by patients, not the Thai public
- Assisted and home care living facilities for multiple levels of mobility and affordability
Sophistication of Tools and Treatment
Technology advancements in healthcare are happening because of the emergence of non-healthcare players, mostly digital tech companies. These companies are developing tools and applications not just for treatment, but for prevention too. The scope is widening from sick care to health care, such as personal health monitoring devices.
One major trend is 'ongoing monitoring' for the prevention and detection of disease. AI will play a role, since these health devices are all about collecting and analysing data with the aim to prevent or slow down the onset of disease. Wearable devices can now send EKG reports and other alerts directly to medical teams.
Digital Technologies and AI
To debate which digital technologies will emerge or Thailand's position in the AI invention space misses the point. By developing an ecosystem with a strong foundation, Thailand can pick and choose technology solutions. A more robust and flexible ecosystem creates more options. More options mean more services to be offered.
There's no question about the demand for healthcare services. The question is Thailand's desire to satisfy the demand. For a paradigm shift, medical professionals and healthcare teams will require training as new digital and AI tools come online. For example, distinguishing between an incoming sensor alert that really requires assistance and an alert that is a false positive.
Thailand does not need to lead technology innovation, but practitioners must be sufficiently abreast of emerging solutions. Public and private hospitals, as well as other operators, need to be ready to participate in this digital transformation.
Thailand's Digital Economy Readiness
Thailand is advancing toward digital transformation in line with Thailand's 4.0 policy. Agencies are gearing up for digital platform adoption and data centres, partly accelerated due to the impact from the pandemic.
Thailand's Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry will use a centralised data-sharing platform by 2023 through a public cloud service, which will be embedded with Internet of Things and AI technologies.
What Are the Uses of AI in Healthcare?
Marketing departments love AI because the possibilities are so sensational. For example, nanobots will enter our system and repair cells so that we can live to be 120 or more. The reality is, however, that AI applications in Thailand and elsewhere will remain narrow for a long while:
- AI tools and applications need to be validated by the Thai FDA and other regulatory authorities
- Personal health data is sensitive
- Scalability of adoption is not easy – practitioners must be convinced that the operationalisation of AI data is easy, and that it solves a problem in a superior way
More people are entering into the 'elderly' demographic, most of whom will need medical and healthcare services. Thailand has respected medical practitioners and facilities that can be expanded to include more ongoing process-based healthcare treatment. Thailand's natural and cultural attributes create a desirable lifestyle destination, particularly Westerners who typically suffer through cold climates. Building a healthcare ecosystem that can integrate new technologies will leverage Thailand's assets without having to fuss over which technologies will be winners. The key is to focus on the customer and not the technology.
Author: Greg Beatty, J.D., Business Development Consultant. For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, email@example.com. Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.