The new era of medical tourism

Thailand has always made big plans for the tourism sector but even more so now the Medical Tourism sector. Adapting to the new normal, Thailand is making provision to push ahead with promotion and has opened up its borders to medical tourists since the end of July.

Tourists traveling for medical procedures, had been one of the first groups of visitors who were able to enter the country since the ban on international arrivals in April this year. The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) states that medical tourist will be allowed entry into Thailand accompanied by up to three caregivers for only certain medical programs. However, patients seeking treatment for COVID-19, will not be permitted into the Kingdom.

History of Thailand Medical Tourism

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the annual number of people travelling abroad to purchase medical services are difficult to identify. Pre-Covid, there has been a rise in medical tourism in the past decade. The increasing costs of health care and the expansion of the middle class in many low- and middle-income countries have led to the boost of medical tourism.



Medical tourism has often been portrayed as involving patients from high-income countries travelling to access cheaper and better care in low- and middle-income countries. Some middle-income countries have been positioning themselves as the 'Go To” destinations for medical tourism and Thailand is one most popular choice.

The Thai Ministry of Commerce estimated that, in 2006, 1.2 million medical tourists accessed health services in Thailand and provided an estimated revenue of approximately US$ 1.1 billion which was about 9% of Thailand’s total estimated revenue from tourism back in 2006. In 2011, it was estimated that revenues from medical tourists would generate the equivalent of 0.4% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP). Thailand became among the top five destinations of inbound medical tourism spending globally, according to the latest research by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The report titled "A Prescription for A Healthier Economy" shows international spending on medical tourism products and services grew by 358% in nominal terms between 2000 and 2017, increasing from US$2.4 billion (72.5 billion baht) to $11 billion. Despite such financial benefits, at present Thailand is toying between the fine balance of economic benefits of medical tourism and the possible dangers of opening up the country in the midst of a pandemic.

The new regulations

Foreign medical tourists are now permitted to apply to come to Thailand for medical treatment with strict disease control measures being put in place.

The Thailand Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration states Thailand’s medical and wellness tourism program has been resumed with the hope of attracting medical tourists back into the country. Under the CCSA regulations, medical tourists have to arrive by air to ensure effective disease control, not via land border checkpoints at this stage.



All visitors must have an appointment letter from a doctor in Thailand and entry certificates issued by Thai embassies across the globe. People wanting to visit Thailand for medical procedures at this time will need to contact the Thai Embassy in their country to organise the visa and paperwork. Thailand’s major hospitals will provide potential candidates with an appointment letter.

They will also need to produce proof that they tested negative and have been tested for Covid-19 within 72 hours of travel. Patients must undergo three separate COVID-19 screenings during their visit to Thailand. Once in Thailand they will be tested again and will be required to stay at the medical facility for at least 14 days, during which they will be able to start their chosen treatments. The quarantine location will depend on the expected duration of the medical treatment. A flow chart courtesy of https://thaiconsulatela.org/ indicates the procedures.

If treatments take less than 14 days, the remainder of their quarantine must be done at the facility where they’re receiving treatment. For treatments that are over 14 days, patients will be able to reside in an alternative hospital quarantine facility. Arrangements had been made for private and public hospitals to cater to medical tourists. However, those who test positive for COVID-19 will be treated in designated areas for foreigners at private facilities and have to pay for their own treatment.



The CCSA states that medical procedures will only be allowed for foreigners at hospitals that have been registered to provide the treatments and have proven their ability to contain any potential outbreak. Further information of participating hospitals and information about procedures, facilities, paperwork requirements and arrival options will be provided at all Thai Embassies. Every case for medical tourists will be handled separately and there is a daily cap to the number of arrivals.

Permission for medical tourists to be accompanied by up to three attending persons is intended to allow such patients to have spouses, parents or assistants in attendance during their hospital treatment. However such persons will have to conform to all the same entry requirements as the medical tourists themselves, including visas, health status, insurance and quarantine throughout their visit to Thailand.

What to expect

Thailand has been among the lowest effected countries with regard to Covid infection numbers. While there is a great need to start welcoming mass tourism, Thailand would need to be very careful regarding people who are permitted to enter the country. Meanwhile, still remaining closed to many visitors, approved medical tourists are welcomed as long as they are able to meet the requirements. Check in and out of establishments, face masks and temperature checks before entering shops, businesses, restaurants, and hotels, is the “new normal”.  Arming oneself with hand sanitizer and good sense of hygiene will help preserve one’s health safety.

Checklist

1. At least 15 working days before the intended date of travel, the applicant must fill in the information and upload all required documents.

2. The Royal Thai Embassy / Consulates-General will review the application. If the applicant requires a visa, the applicant may submit the following documents through mail to a Royal Thai Embassy (ATTN: Visa Section) or a Royal Thai Consulate-General:


    2.1 Passport

    2.2 Two passport-size photographs (2″x 2″)

    2.3 Visa application form (Download) (if the applicant does not have a valid visa to enter Thailand)

    2.4 Declaration Form (Download)

    2.5 Medical insurance or letter from employer guaranteeing that the insurance company or employer will cover a minimum of 100,000 USD (or equivalent in other currencies) of medical costs incurred by the applicant in Thailand, including medical costs in the event that applicant contracts COVID-19. (The insurance must cover the whole duration of stay in Thailand).

    2.6 A letter from the hospital or Medical Facility in Thailand indicating medical purpose and duration of treatment

    *Letter of certification from the hospital in Thailand confirming the admission of the patient and arrangement of quarantine within the hospital for the period of at least 14 days (for the patient and their attendants) *

    **The patient can be accompanied by 3 people at maximum and they need to be quarantined at the same hospital as the patient and the period of their stay in Thailand needs to be at least 14 days**

    2.7 Self-addressed return envelope and visa fee if the applicant does not have a valid visa. (Money order- $80 for single entry / $200 for multiple entries)

3. At the departure airport, the approved applicant is required to present

   3.1 A “Certificate of Entry” issued by The Royal Thai Embassy or the Royal Thai Consulates-General;

   3.2 A Medical insurance covering all expenditures of medical treatment, including COVID-19, while traveling to Thailand in an amount of at least 100,000 USD (The insurance must cover the whole duration of stay in Thailand).

   3.3 A Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected, using RT-PCR test, issued no more than 72 hours before departure

   3.4 A 'Fit to Fly Health Certificate’ issued no more than 72 hours before departure

4. Upon entry to Thailand – Travelers arriving in Thailand during the COVID-19 pandemic must present the following documents

   4.1 COE and Declaration Form

   4.2 Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected, using RT-PCR test, issued no more than 72 hours before departure

   4.3 Fit-to-fly/Fit-to-travel Health Certificate issued no more than 72 hours before departure

5. If granted entry, traveler must go through 14 days of Hospital Quarantine (even if medical treatment finishes before 14 days) at their own expense.


Author: Ezree Ebrahim, Head Business Development (Healthcare), Absolute Health Group. For Further information, please contact: ezree.ebrahim@akesisoncology.com.

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th Dataconsult’s Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.