The global economic downturn has meant that everyone is searching for the best deals, not only in real estate but also on cars, holidays and medical fees.
Governments and health care insurers are feeling the pinch and are consistently looking overseas for more cost effective treatments.
Thailand is emerging as a leader in this field
The growth in medical tourism in Thailand has been phenomenal over the past few years. The Kingdom emerged as the largest health and wellness destination globally by welcoming over 1.5 million medical tourists in 2009.
And a report published by Marketsmonitor.com (Asian Medical Tourism Analysis 2008-2012) shows that revenue from the medical tourism industry is growing at a double digit rate.
Already thousands of private individuals and insurance companies are opting to have treatment in Thailand.
Why has Thailand become a world leader in healthcare?
It’s not just the lower cost of treatment which attracts people, although for many individuals and insurers this obviously plays a part.
Ruben Toral, marketing director at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok explained; "It's not just about the cost, quality is a major issue, the quality of care, the documentation, the delivery."
Walk into Bumrungrad or Bangkok-Phuket Hospital and you could believe you’ve entered a five-star resort.
The reception lobbies are spacious, with café areas and restaurants and the smell of freshly brewed coffee not disinfectant.
The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and instinctively know how to be patient and caring. It’s a world away from the over-worked staff in the health care systems in Europe and the USA.
Then consider your recuperation period; a week or two at a luxury hotel with lazy days relaxing by the pool or lounging on the beach.
At Bumrungrad arrivals from Asia or the Middle East have separate floors to make them feel at home. There is even an in-house travel agency to deal with visa extensions in case patients need to extend their stay.
And it is not just plastic surgery that is performed at Thailand’s hospitals. Bumrungrad list their top treatments as Coronary Artery Bypass Graft, Balloon Angioplasty, Hip Replacement, Knee Replacement Microdisectomy, Comprehensive Check-up, Spinal Fusion, Gastric Bypass, Prostate Surgery and Facelifts.
A quick search on their website will give you real time access to the cost of treatment and an online consultation with surgeons and doctors. All before you make the decision to fly out to Thailand.
What about the quality of treatment?
Doctors and surgeons are internationally trained and speak your language. The technology available to them is state-of-the art and often better than that available in Europe or the U.S.A.
For example, at Bangkok-Phuket Hospital's heart clinic stem cell therapy is already part of the standard tool kit for treating battered hearts that might otherwise need a transplant."Most of the patients have been ill for a long time," the clinic's director, Dr. Kit Arom, said in a recent interview. "By the time they come here, they are all but incapacitated. They are waiting for a transplant or waiting to die.
After receiving stem-cell injections straight into cardiac muscle tissue, a treatment too controversial to be offered yet in the United States, most patients recovered enough to leave under their own power."
Hospitals such as Bangkok-Phuket and Bumrungrad have been encouraging Thai doctors who have trained abroad to return home.
Patients at these two hospitals are now 60% foreign, a number which continues to climb.
Toral, marketing Director at Bumrungrad said in a recent interview; "We were a Thai hospital serving a Thai community. Now we're an international hospital that just happens to be in Thailand."
What does the future hold for medical tourism in Thailand?
In the West we have an aging society.
Annual healthcare spending in the U.S.A. accounts for a staggering 15% of GDP. This figure is likely to keep climbing as the population ages.
The Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions has predicted that the number of Americans travelling abroad for healthcare is expected to reach 15.75 million by 2017.
With savings of up to 90% over medical costs in the U.S., it is not hard to see why people chose to make the trip.
Bumrungrad Hospital has become one of the world's leading centres for medical tourism. It has contracts with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai who send thousands of individuals for treatment to Bangkok every year.
And medical centres such as Bangkok-Phuket Hospital and Phuket International Hospital are following closely in their footsteps.
Of course, travelling overseas for medical treatment is not for everyone and many people would still prefer to be treated closer to home than board a long-haul flight.
However, for treatments which are not covered by the health service or your insurer, treatment in Thailand is a cost effective alternative.
Thailand is already a major player in this growing market and expects to increase its share in the years to come.