The response of Thailand to the global COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the world’s most successful. The extremely low number of infections and fatality rate has won praise from the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and experts around the globe. The Global COVID-19 Recovery Index has consistently ranked Thailand in the top five of out of 184 countries in the effectiveness of its battle against the virus, underlining the resilience of its medical infrastructure.

This will come as no surprise to those familiar with the medical sector of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. It has built a reputation as a leading medical tourism destination, on a foundation of world-class medical facilities and personnel, combined with outstanding cost performance. The global pandemic has impacted medical tourism, but hasn’t stopped Thailand innovating in healthcare.

Resilient innovation and investment

The country is becoming an increasingly important destination for investment in medical tech and services, in line with the government’s Thailand 4.0 concept of a dynamic, high-value and sustainable economy that delivers better quality of life for all.

More than 50 applications for investments in projects totalling $400 million dollars were submitted in the first half of 2020, according to the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI), which introduced a range of measures this year to accelerate investment in the medical sector. These applications, from both global and domestic investors, were predominantly for the manufacturing of medical equipment and supplies to support the rapid response to COVID-19,

We have approved more than 80 percent of the projects in order to respond to the situation, while paving the way for Thailand’s longer-term development as a manufacturing hub for medical devices and supplies

said BOI Secretary General Ms Duangjai Asawachintachit.

The battle against COVID-19 is only intensifying investor interest in the country’s already advanced medical infrastructure. Along with cutting-edge research laboratories and medical device manufacturing, there are more than 60 hospitals certified by the Joint Commission International (JCI), the leading global accreditation body for healthcare facility standards, and more than 60,000 licensed doctors in Thailand.

Thailand has taken gradual steps to reopen for medical tourism, allowing limited numbers of people to enter the country for treatment since the end of July 2020. Rigorous protocols are in place for medical tourists and the up to three people who can accompany them, including proof of negative testing for COVID-19 issued no more than 72 hours before departure, repeated tests once in-country, 14 days hospital quarantine and other anti-infections measures.

Transforming medicine digitally

Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital is one of the facilities currently permitted to accept overseas patients. The JCI-accredited hospital launched telemedicine consultations in late 2019, expanding those offerings with its Bumrungrad @ Home service in March 2020, when the pandemic made it more difficult for patients to visit doctors.

“Because care does not end at the hospital, the key advantage for patients is to get the continuous standard of care provided in the hospital, with more convenience. You can see your doctor, undergo laboratory tests, receive medications, and access many services without having to travel to the hospital,” explained Ms Artirat Charukitpipat, CEO of Bumrungrad.

“With a patient-centric design, the service is easy to use even for elderly people who are unfamiliar with technology,” added Ms Charukitpipat.

As well as patients in Thailand, those from across Asia, the Middle East and the USA have also utilised it. Bumrungrad is planning to expand its telemedicine service even after the pandemic passes, employing the latest technology and treatments to deliver the best care to patients wherever they are.

The pandemic is accelerating shifts that were already in motion, and Doctor A to Z - a medtech start-up launched in 2018 by Dr Anucha Panoi and Ms Kannika Jampaphan and Mr Teerayut Yoonun, who have decades of experience in medicine - is finding its virtual care platform in ever more demand.

Through its mobile app, patients can seamlessly connect with specialist doctors from anywhere for consultations on cancer, gastrointestinal issues, orthopaedics, dentistry, mental health, rehabilitation and numerous other conditions.

As an online medical assistance, the platform facilitates the easy exchange of information between patients and healthcare professionals. It also allows for access to pharmacies, hospitals, insurance services and other medical assistance services, via its one-stop ecosystem, in Thai or English.

The company has also teamed up with Thailand’s Department of Consular Affairs to provide medical consultations for Thais living overseas, allowing them to connect with world-class doctors from home even during the pandemic. Furthermore, the platform facilitates medical tourist from around the world for treatment in Thailand across more than 30 JCI hospitals.

“The hundreds of specialist doctors available in Thailand through the platform are our greatest resource,” said Dr Panoi, who added that Doctor A to Z is looking at further expanding its international presence.

Doctor A to Z is backed by the BOI, giving it tax breaks and other incentives. The company is also able to apply for Smart Visas for key employees, start-up entrepreneurs and investors, allowing them to work and stay in the country for up to four years. Such support is just one of the reasons more entrepreneurs and investors are focusing on Thailand.

The global pandemic has created not only challenges for every country, but also opportunity, and Thailand is drawing on its resilience to face this unprecedented situation. The country is adapting to the new environment by utilising digital technology to expand and improve telemedicine services, creating a more welcoming business environment to drive medical investment and innovation, and taking its advanced healthcare infrastructure to the next level.

Learn more about Thailand Board of Investment here

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