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Healthcare in Thailand is generally of a good quality, especially in Bangkok. Many doctors and other specialists speak English, but the standard of care deteriorates considerably in rural areas.
One peculiarity of the system which expats might encounter is that it is often easier to find a specialist than a GP. A specialist at a general hospital should, however, be able to treat most general ailments.
Public healthcare in Thailand
There are more than 1,000 hospitals in Thailand's public sector. Public hospitals have a relatively good standard of care and the majority of Thai nationals use these facilities. However, lines can be long and the equipment is sometimes old and outdated. For this reason, private healthcare is generally recommended for expats.
Private healthcare in Thailand
Private hospitals in Thailand are first-rate and often employ staff that have been educated at Western universities. Private treatment is also 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.
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 insurance in Thailand
Expats are required by law to have health insurance if they are working in Thailand. Legally-working expats qualify for social security which is funded by a monthly salary deduction of 5%. Social security holders get free consultations and medication, but consultations are usually very brief and medications limited to generics. Expats are assigned a particular hospital - if needing to go to another, treatment is 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.
It is often best to get in-patient insurance as the basic minimum and then get out-patient cover as an addition if it is necessary. Out-patient treatment is so affordable in Thailand that only getting out-patient insurance is somewhat pointless.
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.
Cholera and leptospirosis are water-borne diseases which can be contracted in Thailand. Expats should only drink decontaminated or bottled water and take extra precautions in flooded areas.
Medical tourism in Thailand
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.
Emergency services in Thailand
There are private ambulance services in Thailand that cater to English speakers. However, if calling a government ambulance, it is better to get a Thai speaker to make the call. Ambulance response times can be slow as other drivers will only rarely give the ambulance right of way.
Expats can also call hospitals directly where a receptionist who speaks English will answer and will be able to call an ambulance on their behalf. It is, therefore, a good idea for expats to keep the telephone number of their nearest hospital handy.
The public emergency numbers for Thailand are 1154 for medical emergencies and 1155 for the tourist police.