Nine things to know:
1. The sectors
Healthcare in Thailand is generally good but it is important to distinguish between the private and public sectors. The public sector is essentially for Thais although many hospitals will accept farang patients provided they can pay for treatment. Private hospitals in Thailand tend to be better equipped and have more staff able to communicate in languages other than Thai. Many Thai doctors are not based in one hospital but travel between several on different days of the week.
2. The costs
Costs in public hospitals, outpatient and inpatient, are much lower than in Europe. But costs in private hospitals are much higher and comparable with those in specialist hospitals in Europe. In Bangkok and some provincial cities, intensive care units are equipped as well as those in Europe with the latest technology. But expect to pay similar prices.
Travellers are forever being reminded to take out proper insurance, and this is obviously very good advice as long as you declare in advance any pre-existing conditions. But it is estimated that only about half the tourists to Thailand have any kind of medical cover and virtually none in the case of Chinese and Indian tourists. Many hospitals in Thailand now require a down payment, if no insurance can be shown, before treatment can be commenced.
4. Traffic jams
Thailand is known for its high volume of traffic , especially in large cities, which can affect the efficiency of emergency health services. Ambulances often have difficulty responding and transporting patients quickly. Additionally, many doctors have schedules that require them to travel constantly from hospital to hospital which can mean they cannot always keep appointments on time.
5. Health hazards
Thailand’s tropical climate is loved by many but it has its downside too. The warm weather generates the ideal conditions for bacteria and viruses to grow. Mosquitoes represent a particular risk since they are responsible for a number of diseases and not just malaria. If travelling to Thailand, there are a number of recommended vaccinations available in your home country.
6. Outpatient treatment
Major hospitals in Thailand all operate outpatient departments, for example dentistry, plastic surgery and eye problems, but these are supplemented by large numbers of private clinics. Some private clinics are first rate and use the services of doctors based in hospitals. But some caution has to be exercised, especially as it is very difficult to sue in the case of allegedly unsatisfactory treatment.
7. Second opinion
A doctor treating you in hospital and recommending a course of treatment will not object if you decide to take a second opinion, perhaps in another institution. Indeed, the appointment slips of several major hospitals even make this point explicitly. A second opinion is never a bad idea if you are concerned in any way there could be alternative treatments or solutions.
8. Living wills
These are a very good idea for many people, but it is important that they surface at the right time. If you do decide to make a living will – which basically covers your wishes if you are terminally unconscious – then lodge a copy with your best friend or nearest relative for them to show the hospital authorities when the time is right. Euthanasia is not allowed by law in Thailand.
9. Final journey
Hospitals in Thailand are usually very good at helping grieving relatives cope with a death that occurs there. They will normally assist with embassy-related bureaucracies, the issuing of death certificates, choice of a mortician and so on. Whether an autopsy is necessary or not is a police discretion in Thailand. Unless the body is transported abroad, the normal method of disposal is cremation as burials are prohibitively expensive in this country.