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Healthcare in Thailand is generally of good quality, especially in Bangkok. The city has a thriving medical tourism industry and many hospitals offer excellent care for a much lower price than would be charged in Western countries. Many doctors and other specialists speak English and have often studied abroad, though admin staff are less likely to speak English.
Private hospitals are recommended over public hospitals in Thailand, as they will generally be more comfortable and service will be faster. That said, public hospitals still offer a good standard of care.
Health insurance in Thailand
Expats are required by law to have health insurance if they are working in Thailand. Legally-working expats qualify for the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS), which is funded by monthly salary deductions. Social-security holders get free consultations and medication, but consultations are usually brief and medications limited to generics. Policies are generally limited to certain hospitals – if needing to go to an out-of-network hospital, treatment is usually not covered.
Some expats opt instead for private health insurance, which provides access to an excellent standard of care at a range of private facilities. If choosing this route, there are international companies that can provide health insurance for expats in Thailand.
Public healthcare in Thailand
There are more than 1,000 hospitals in Thailand's public sector. Public hospitals have a good standard of care and the majority of Thai nationals use these facilities. That said, lines can be long – especially in the larger cities – and there are fewer creature comforts than one would find in private hospitals. Waiting times in more rural hospitals may be shorter, but the standard of care is often lower. A commonality between city and rural hospitals, though, is that consultations are often short and hurried.
For convenience, and because treatment at private hospitals is well priced, most expats use private healthcare.
Private healthcare in Thailand
Private hospitals in Thailand are first-rate and often employ staff that have been educated at Western universities. While private treatment is about double the cost of public treatment, it's still much cheaper than what expats coming from Europe or the United States may be used to.
Despite the reasonable cost of treatment, expats should make sure they have medical insurance in the case of emergencies or for when major procedures are required. The best private hospitals are in Bangkok and, in the event of a serious injury or medical condition, travelling to one of these world-class medical institutions is the safest option.
The quality of care and low treatment prices have led to Thailand's rise as a medical tourism destination for operations such as cosmetic surgery, eye surgery and dental care. Some hospitals catering to overseas medical tourists resemble hotels more than hospitals, especially those in the south, which market medical operations alongside beach holidays.
Pharmacies in Thailand
There is an abundance of pharmacies in Thailand, in cities as well as smaller towns. Many are independent stores, but chain pharmacies do exist. Pharmacies are easily recognisable because they display a white sign with a green cross and green lettering. Most pharmacies are open seven days a week, although only for a few hours on Sundays.
Formal prescriptions are not always needed for medication and many people go straight to a pharmacist if they are feeling unwell – which has led to the overuse of antibiotics becoming an issue. Expats are advised to see a doctor for any medical ailments but should keep in mind that hospital pharmacies are often more expensive than independent stores in town.
Most qualified pharmacists should be able to give medical advice in English.
Health hazards in Thailand
The tropical climate is a good environment for viruses and bacteria, which means that there are numerous health hazards in Thailand that expats should be aware of.
Expats travelling to the country’s northern region should be aware of the risk of Japanese encephalitis. A serious illness that can cause brain damage, it is transmitted by mosquito bites. In certain areas, other mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and malaria are also a concern. As such, expats should cover up in the evenings, use mosquito repellents and seek medical attention even for mild flu-like symptoms.
Emergency services in Thailand
There are private ambulance services in Thailand that cater to English speakers, but it's better to get a Thai speaker to make the call if calling a government ambulance. Ambulance response times can be slow as other drivers will only rarely give the ambulance right of way.
The public emergency numbers for Thailand are 1154 for medical emergencies and 1155 for the tourist police.