Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thailand's Successful Healthcare Tourism

Thailand’s medical system was revolutionised under former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. One of his key policies was the “30 baht treat all” scheme launched when he came to power in 2001.

The plan meant universal coverage for every single person in Thailand. Every time they visited a doctor, they would pay THB30 ($1). One visit, THB30. Two visits, THB60. This price was regardless of the medical problem they had — be it a slight cold or major heart surgery that was needed, the price would always be the same.


Leisurely healing

Can Arab countries take the low cost healthcare tourism model practised at the Royal Bangkok Hospital and give it the luxury treatment? There’s certainly a potential market for it.

There’s something strange about visiting the Royal Bangkok Hospital in the capital of Thailand. Basically, it doesn’t feel like a hospital, or even smell like one. More like a trip to the Four Seasons Hotel.

“That’s part of the plan,” says the hospital’s CEO Dr Chatree Duangnet.

His “plan” — to attract patients from across the world, enticing them with the ambience of a hotel but the care of a top class hospital, certainly seems to be paying off. A staggering 14% of its daily outpatients — well over 300 a day — are from the Arab world, mostly the UAE. They have come here for a holiday combined with either medical treatment or just an annual check up.

Royal Bangkok Hospital is living proof that medical tourism is big and booming. “We are a private hospital and the way forward for private hospitals is to change the way they operate. It is not enough to just be functional and have the best medical facilities. You have to attract people with the kind of accommodation and facilities that you would expect at a five-star hotel,” says Dr Duangnet.

With a market capitalisation of over $1bn, the strategy is paying off. Holding company the Bangkok Dusit has over 10,000 staff and 17 hospitals in Thailand. Two more have opened in Cambodia and the next stop will be Abu Dhabi, as the company looks to capitalise in the number of Arabs seeking Asian-style healthcare.

“We have Arabic speakers and we train our staff to respect Arab cultures. With over 300 a day coming here, it is has become a big part of our business and now we are confident we can do the same in Abu Dhabi, because we have a strong client base. It isn’t about just coming here when you have a problem, but coming on a regular basis for a complete medical check up,” he says.

Thailand’s medical system was revolutionised under former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. One of his key policies was the “30 baht treat all” scheme launched when he came to power in 2001.

The plan meant universal coverage for every single person in Thailand. Every time they visited a doctor, they would pay THB30 ($1). One visit, THB30. Two visits, THB60. This price was regardless of the medical problem they had — be it a slight cold or major heart surgery that was needed, the price would always be the same.

This also reduced the expense on healthcare because people were healthier and so as a result were also more fit for work.

Under Thailand’s pre-Shinawatra system, 76% of the population had access to healthcare. A year after he came to power, the figure stood at 96%.

“It resulted in everyone being far more health conscious, but with the loss of their insurance payments many hospitals looked for alternative sources of income. One of the results was a boom in medical tourism, with Thailand earning over $1bn from foreign patients in 2005,” says Dr Duangnet.

Today, the country has well over a million medical tourists a year, and the industry is booming not just here but globally.


The end of the World?

Credit crunch signals end of The World for Dubai’s multi-billion dollar property deal

'The World' project


England is deserted, Australia and New Zealand have merged, and the man who bought Ireland has killed himself.

They were designed to make Dubai the envy of the world: a series of paradise islands inhabited by celebrities and the super-rich reclaimed from the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf and shaped like a map of the Earth. It was called The World.

As millions of tonnes of rock were dumped into the sea for the foundations, timely leaks suggested that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were to buy Ethiopia, Sir Richard Branson was tipped to occupy England, while Rod Stewart would border him in Scotland.

Instead it has become the world’s most expensive shipping hazard, guarded by private security in fast boats and ringed by warning buoys to keep the curious away. A development that was meant to send Dubai’s star into the firmament of First World cities has been left to the mercy of the waves and the baking winds.

Mile after mile of breakwater built from boulders brought hundreds of miles by ship has been laid, but inside its man-made lagoon, work has completely stopped. The expected map of the world of 300 islands is instead a disjointed and desolate collection of sandy blots — a monumental folly just out of sight of Dubai’s shore.

Those who bought into what was the world’s most ambitious building project were not celebrities. Many were more ordinary investors who put down 70 per cent deposits, some of them Anglo-Indians. John O’Dolan, who fronted a consortium that bought Ireland in 2007 for $38 million (£27 million), committed suicide earlier this year. The others have little prospect of seeing a return. Now The World has stopped they can’t get off.

“The World has been cancelled. It doesn’t even look like the world. Basically there is one island that is maintained that is said to be owned by the Sheikh [Dubai’s ruler] and the rest looks like a pile of muck,” said one local property agent.

It is the starkest example of a financing crunch that faces the emirate but many other projects are also in jeopardy. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), of which Dubai is a part, about $300 billion of building is on hold after prices began tumbling. Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s oil-rich neighbour, is helping to support it through the crisis, so far to the tune of about $10 billion. Another $10 billion is likely to follow soon, and more may follow.

Property is not the only dark spot in the UAE. In the nearby emirate of Sharjah the credit crunch turned off the lights this week. Planned power stations have not been built, and as a result businesses and houses were left without electricity at a time when daytime temperatures were pushing 50C.

The result is a chastened Government, stung by recent criticism in the international press that Dubai itself is one big folly.

In a rare appearance in front of the media this week, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler and the UAE’s Prime Minister, vowed to steer the emirate through its troubles and pledged to further rein in extravagant developments. Officially, however, not a single project has been cancelled — just delayed.

“I don’t blame anybody. Some papers try to write this but they are forgetting their problems [in their own countries]. . . But people only throw stones when a tree has fruit,” he said.