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Spotting medical scams in Thailand

Pacific Prime China discusses medical tourism in China and how you can spot the scams while ensuring you receive quality medical care while in the country.

Posted on May 25, 2016 by Rob McBroom

In a previous article, Pacific Prime China discussed the currently ongoing private healthcare scandal where hospitals and staff have been caught providing fake or highly ineffective treatments to patients and pushing them to pay exorbitant funds for healthcare. Recently, however, we came across an article highlighting that Chinese tourists in Thailand had also recently run afoul of similar schemes.

In the article, published by the SCMP (VPN needed to access in China), it was reported that two Chinese tourists were duped into paying almost 400,000 RMB each for cancer treatment at a beauty salon, after being diagnosed with cancer on the same trip. Of course, the cancer treatment turned out to be a complete sham as the tourists did not actually have symptoms relating to their supposed cancer.

According to some statistics, Thailand is now the number one destination for medical tourism and is expected to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. When researching Thailand as a potential place for treatment, you will quickly find that there are a ton of clinics, hospitals, centers, and even spas all advertising medical care, all of varying quality. To help ensure that you receive the best care in the Land of Smiles, we have asked our staff who have lived and received treatment in Thailand how they spotted medical scams and found the best places to receive care.       


Medical tourism in Thailand

First, here is a bit of information about why Thailand has become so popular for medical tourism. With 7.93 million Chinese (approximately 27% of the total number of visitors to Thailand) visiting the country in 2015 according to the Thai Department of Tourism, Thailand is obviously a massive draw for both Chinese and expats living in Asia. While many go on tours, there has been an increasing number who travel for medical tourism. In fact, according to the International Medical Travel Journal, there were 2,530,000 medical tourism visits in Thailand in 2012. If these numbers remain stable, then it would make sense that Chinese visitors now make up a large portion of these visitors.

One of the main reasons Thailand has become so popular for medical tourism is the fact that the average cost of care in the country is considerably cheaper than many other countries. For example, one of our colleagues had a mole on his foot that was diagnosed as melanoma. Because the mole was in an area where the skin is quite tight a skin graft was needed to replace the excision. The operation, tests, and subsequent checkups came to a total of just over USD 1,300.

Combine the low relative price with the fact that many of the larger private hospitals offer a high quality of care, low to non-existent wait times, modern facilities, and staff who speak multiple languages and it is pretty clear to see what the draw is.


How do you spot medical scams in Thailand?

Our staff who have lived and worked in Thailand suggested these 5 tips on how you can identify medical scams in Thailand.

  1. Be wary of any "miracle' solutions - In our experience, this is arguably one of the most common medical scams in Thailand. You may be told that there is a miracle drug or treatment that will completely cure you, but the treatment will likely be a scam or even harmful. In truth, for many major diseases and medical issues there is no known miracle cure, so if you are presented with one it would be a good idea to simply walk away, or seek a second opinion.

  2. Be wary of touts - While many touts in cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and beach resorts work for bars and clubs, there are touts out there to work for spas and beauty centers that will try to persuade you to visit their establishment for treatment. Like the tourists in the story above, you may be faced with bogus diagnoses and costly treatments. If you are approached by a tout, it is best to simply just walk away.

  3. Don't buy certain medication from certain pharmacies - Pharmacies in Thailand are allowed to sell many different medications over the counter that require prescriptions in other countries. But some pharmacies, especially smaller ones in highly touristed areas, carry drugs like those used to treat sexual dysfunction, sleep inducers, anti-depressants, and blood pressure or cardiac drugs. These all require prescriptions in Thailand, and many of those sold over the counter will likely be fake. That said, these drugs are considerably cheaper, even with a prescription, so it is best to go see a doctor in Thailand first to get a prescription. This will ensure you get legitimate medication.

  4. Avoid non-accredited hospitals or clinics - Our staff suggest using common sense here: Many of the reputable hospitals and clinics in Thailand are kept incredibly clean and will present accreditations from various bodies. If a hospital or clinic looks dirty, run-down, or is not accredited it is best to avoid them.

  5. Research online before you go - Online forums, both run by expats in Thailand and tourists who have visited Thailand for care, exist in abundance. These often provide a wealth of information including hospital experiences and tips. Be sure to look online before you go to get a good idea of the top facilities.


How to identify quality health care in Thailand

With over 1,400 public and private hospitals in the country, and a countless number of spas, clinics, and dentists, you can be sure that, like China, not every center will be a paragon of quality and honesty when it comes to health care. Here are our staff's suggestions on how you can ensure you get quality health care in Thailand.

1. Go to the major private hospitals

If you need surgery or longer-term care, then your best bet are the major private hospitals in Bangkok. Our staff classified two different styles of private hospitals that can be visited. The first are what are often referred to as the 'hospital holiday' centers which offer high-quality care along with facilities that rival some five-star hotels, and staff who speak multiple languages, or staff who can act as a translator. These include:

  • Bumrungrad - Located in the heart of Bangkok, one of the world's most popular hospitals for medical tourism. Offers a wide variety of services with most doctors having been trained overseas. The cost can be high when compared to other facilities, however. The lobby and much of the public areas of the hospital look more like a five-star resort than a hospital.

  • Samitivej - Various locations in Thailand, with the main branch (Samitivej Sukhumvit) located in the Thong Lo neighborhood of Bangkok. Our staff members who have lived in Thailand all mentioned that Samitivej Sukhumvit was their go-to place for care. One staff member had both a surgery and treatment for pneumonia there and noted that, while considerably cheaper than other countries, it was a tad pricey for the area. The service and care provided by all staff, however, were top-notch.  

  • BNH - Bangkok's oldest private hospital. It offers foreign-trained doctors and a high level of care and services that many consider to rival Bumrungrad. Some treatments here, however, are more costly than the other two similar hospitals.

The second type of private hospitals offer quality care with decent amenities but are usually a bit more affordable

  • Phyathai Hospital - Located just south of the popular Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, this private hospital offers affordable and good quality care. Our staff who have received care here did mention that some of the staff did not understand much English, which made conversing with some hospital staff hard. Doctors generally speak good English, with many speaking Chinese as well.

  • Bangkok Hospitals - A variety of locations in Bangkok and around the country, these hospitals offer a sound standard of care, with many staff able to speak both English and Chinese. It is a popular choice with expats and locals alike.

  • Bangkok Christian Hospital - A hospital that offers a wide variety of services with qualified staff and decent amenities. Many expats who live in Bangkok visit this hospital if they live near it.

2. Only visit accredited institutions

All hospitals and clinics in the country are supposed to have an accreditation from the government. Most will eagerly display this at the entrance, with some accreditation bodies like the Joint Commission International listing accredited hospitals online. Other hospitals will also display their accreditation given by the government's Healthcare Accreditation Institute. Look for the blue cross with a check mark and the words Healthcare Accreditation.

Our staff recommend that if you don't see an accreditation, you should avoid the health care center.   

3. Be sure to look at your health insurance provider's network

Many health insurance companies now have international networks of health care providers who will accept direct billing, meaning the hospital will bill your health insurance company first. Companies often are active in managing their networks, which means that the hospitals included in the list offer quality service. Before you leave China, it may be worth looking at your plan's network for hospitals included. This will make paying for care much easier.

4. Don't forget to secure international health insurance

Finally, while health care is cheaper in Thailand, care at private hospitals is by no means cheap. This is especially true when you factor in the cost of transportation to and from Thailand. Pacific Prime recommends that if you are going to go to Thailand for care, you secure international health insurance before leaving. This can offset the cost of care, and many plans may even cover 100% of the cost of care.

Talk to our experts today to learn more.


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