Medical tourism creating difficulties in Thailand – is medical tourism responsible tourism or exploitation?

I wrote a while back (almost 3 years ago actually) I wrote about how a friend of mine ended up with a nasty infection after visiting a dirty hospital in rural Thailand. Her arm is permanently disfigured as a result so it must have been serious.

Several people replied that healthcare in Thailand is actually excellent and my friend’s experience must have been the exception rather than the norm. It seems that we need to differentiate between private hospitals and public ones in Thailand. Since my friend was nowhere near a city I’m guessing she ended up in a public hospital, probably the only one anywhere nearby.

This article explains that public hospitals don’t have enough doctors because private hospitals near expensive hotels pay much better than public hospitals. In one day at a private hospital a doctor might make three times more than she would working 5 days in a public hospital.

The result is that while some hospitals in Thailand provide excellent care, public hospitals even in major cities like Bangkok (and you can imagine it would be even worse the further you get from a city especially since people are willing to travel hours to get tot he public hospital in Bangkok) are a bit more trying:

The outpatient waiting room looks a bit like Grand Central Station. On a very hot day. With no air conditioning.

Hundreds of patients are squeezed onto old wooden benches. Many more are slumped in wheelchairs or lying on gurneys.

Malai says she has come in from the district of Phetchaburi because she feels sick and her legs hurt. She also has hepatitis. She left her home at 3 a.m. to travel three hours to the hospital.

It reminds me of this story from a while back – I linked to one article about Canadians getting transplants in India from poor people willing to sell their organs. It seems that medical tourism is great for the tourists but there’s definitely some controversy over how good it is for the locals.

What do you think? Is medical tourism responsible tourism or exploitation?

And no, if I needed a kidney or whatever, I wouldn’t really care about the answer to my question.

Filed Under: Medical tourism

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  1. Some of the very best medical care I ever received was in a hotel in Bankok. Within 20 minutes of a phone call, both a doctor and a nurse were in my room, treating me. I had turistas, probably no big deal for the medical duo, but they gave me one injection for pain, medicine to soothe my “inurds”, powered “food” enough for 2 days and the nurse, (the doctor’s wife) gave me a sponge bath. The bill: $30, which my boss paid. Kindest care I ever received…

  2. Dianna says:

    Ok, someone got an infection in a hospital in Thailand. I had surgery a couple years ago in Illinois and ended up with a horrible infection. I was laid up for about 3 weeks due to the infection.

  3. James Trotta says:

    Don’t forget that in this case, the hospital was so dirty that my friend felt she needed to fly from Bangkok to Seoul with her injury to receive medical care. Now she probably should have gone to one of the fancy private hospitals in Bangkok or Pattaya but she didn’t know of the huge difference that seems to exist between hospitals for the rich and hospitals for ordinary Thais.

  4. kannu says:

    well, the friend of your’s might not aware of the JCI accreadiated, which is the symbol of quality assurance for the hospitals

  5. m says:

    It isn’t really medical tourism that is causing the problems in Thailand or the shift from public to private hospitals.

    Several years ago the Thai government instituted a populist program that provided 30-baht healthcare for any Thai at a public hospital. This created a problem where doctors could not make nearly as much money as at private hospitals, and also the larger waiting times and reduced quality of care made the private hospitals much more attractive to those who could afford it.

    It because cyclic after that – the better doctors would go to the private hospitals. The quality of care became worse at the public hospitals so more people who could afford it went to the private hospitals for treatment, etc…

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