Thailand's leading private hospitals are gearing up for rapid growth in the medical tourism sector over the next three to five years.
The country's three biggest hospital operators - Bumrungrad Hospital, Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS) and Piyavate Hospital - have begun adding rooms and upgrading medical facilities to prepare for an expected increase in the number of foreigners travelling to the Kingdom in search of affordable medical treatment.
Chatree Duangnet, chief executive of Bangkok Hospital Medical Centre - a unit of BDMS - said Bangkok Hospital has been preparing for the medical tourism boom for a couple of years.
Bangkok Hospital has already increased the number of beds at Bangkok Hospital Pattaya, Bangkok Hospital Samui and International Clinic Koh Chang, and is renovating and adding beds at Bangkok Hospital Phuket, he said.
Bangkok Hospital's other hospitals are gradually upgrading their operations in a bid to qualify for accreditation by Joint Commission International, a US-based group that assesses international healthcare standards. Four hospitals operated by Bangkok Hospital Medical Centre - Wattanosoth Cancer Hospital, Bangkok International Hospital, Bangkok Heart Hospital and Bangkok Hospital - have already been granted JCI accreditation, while Bangkok Hospital Pattaya and Phuket are waiting for the accreditation to be formally announced. Chatree said Bangkok Hospital decided to upgrade facilities at network hospitals because if the capacity at Soi Soonvijai - Bangkok Hospital's main hospital - was not sufficient, it would have to send foreign patients to Samitivej Srinakarin or other network hospitals upcountry.
One floor at Samitivej Srinakarin has been set aside for foreign patients sent from Bangkok Hospital.
BDMS owns and manages 19 hospitals under various brands. It has about 10,000 employees, with a doctor-to-nurse ratio of 50:50. Chatree believed the numbers of doctors and nurses was sufficient to handle the expected increase in demand over the next five years.
Piyavate Hospital will spend Bt400 million on expansion this year, chief executive Tanatip Suppradit said. The funds will be used to renovate the hospital, add two wards and train employees. Piyavate's occupancy rate is currently 70 per cent.
Tanatip said 20 to 25 per cent of Piyavate's patients last year were foreigners, who contributed 50 per cent of the hospital's Bt1 billion revenue for 2008. Foreign patients' contribution to revenue could reach 60 per cent over the next five years, he said.
Piyavate plans to establish a medical centre in Oman, which supplies most of the hospital's foreign clients, and is looking for locations for other overseas centres. "Southern and Eastern African countries are interesting targets for us, as some patients in those areas have begun seeking medical treatment in Asian countries like India and Thailand," he said.
Mack Banner, CEO of Bumrungrad Hospital, said the hospital would not delay its three-year investment plan because of the global economic downturn. Rather, Bumrungrad sees the slowdown as a good time to expand and upgrade services while preparing for an influx of foreigners once the economy recovers, he said.
The hospital will develop the remaining five floors of its international clinic building to serve outpatients. The building has 22 floors, 16 of which are operating. It will renovate all rooms in its hospital building - serving only inpatients - and increase the number of beds from 554 to 600.