Despite having some of the best vantage points in term of being a being an excellent tourism destination coupled with some of the best medical facilities and hospitals in the world, Thailand is gradually losing its edge as a Medical Tourism destination in the region due to a variety of factors.
Among the top three factors amidst an assortment of reasons are: a) Lack of Proper Medical Marketing Professionals, b) Lack of English Proficiency (An International Language) among supporting Medical Staff and also in the other supporting industries and c) Rising Medical Rates.
Totally lacking in the country are Professionals who have both marketing expertise and also a proper medical background and understanding of the medical jargon and also the medical procedures, systems etc. Medical Marketing, both Digital and Offline is a very skilled area that needs suitably qualified candidates and unfortunately in Thailand, they are basically only a handful of such individuals. Most Hospitals do not even have inhouse PR and Marketing staff and some use external agencies that are totally devoid of such professionals. To make matters worse, the various Government Agencies such as the Tourism Boards, Public Health Ministries etc, do not even have such professionals in their organizations.
Most of the hospitals and organizations concerned with promoting Medical Tourism seem to lack the knowledge of the fundamental fact that most international patients will also do their own research and due diligence before coming to Thailand and one of the research modes is via the online internet searches. “Most hospitals and related government organizations do not have a clue of how to do digital online marketing let alone the doctors concerned. Many think that having a website and a facebook account will suffice! Online and even Offline medical marketing needs a lot of strategic planning and delicate executions,” says Khun Jakkapong Watcharachaijunta, CEO of Medical Spheres Thailand, a medical marketing and communications company
. “ Its hard convincing many of these hospital owners or administrators to contract such services to a professional company that has such expertise. Some would rather give the task to their unqualified relatives or friends!” he added. “Medical marketing encompasses a wide spectrum of areas ranging from a hundred to even up to 2 thousand different topics that need to be addressed for example online credibility and varied online presence, endorsements, detailed information of services, procedures, consumer seminars, offfline materials, co-sponsorships etc .”
English Proficiency is another major obstacle to growth in this sector. Many hospitals though they may have doctors who are English speaking, many of the support staff like front receptionists, nurses, billing staff etc are not qualified in the Language. Worst still, some hospitals do not even have basic websites with information in English and some have sites are in sub-standard levels that makes the hospital lose credibility with its prospective international patients. (we have witnessed some local hospital sites promoting medical tourism with wordings like doctors specializing in cotton cancer instead of colon cancer!) The lack of English proficiency is also witnessed in supporting industries like retail pharmacies, service apartments or accommodation venues for these patients
pre and post procedures, etc. Some hospitals simply think that by employing Fillipino staff ,they can overcome this problem. The problem is that is most of the International well paying patients are not comfortable with the sub-standard English proficiency of these Fillipinos and their “twangy” accents plus most of them do not possess the service orientated nature of the Thais. Its also defeats the whole idea of coming to Thailand to experience Thai hospitality and service. Some hospitals and clinics try to even employ Arabic, Chinese or Burmese speaking staff without realizing that most educated well paying patients are educated enough to converse in English and are not some peasants from China or the Middle-east!
Another issue that is challenging Thailand’s medical tourism industry is the rising rates for services, procedures and pharmaceutical costs. In an attempt to make fast profits and by constantly increasing the fees charged, many of these greedy establishments are putting themselves out of the game as international patients are beginning to do more due diligence prior to making a decision to come to Thailand for a medical procedure.
The fact that countries in the region like India and Malaysia are more cheaper and economical destinations in terms of medical costs, accommodations, living costs and also their favorable exchange rates, greatly affects Thailand’s competitiveness in the sector.
Destinations like Vietnam that is greatly investing in the medical and also medical tourism industry with support from foreign professionals and countries would greatly harm Thailand’s standing in this sector coupled with the fact that Vietnam is also rapidly addressing all the shortcomings in Thailand such as language proficiency etc.
It also does not help Thailand that traditional markets like Dubai and other Middle-East markets are now also developing their own Medical Industry greatly and are also joining the bandwagon of promoting the Medical Tourism Industry of their own home countries.
To add further salt to its wounds, Thailand’s Immigration and Tourist Police departments are not helping by the international media coverages of some of its policies and programs that are putting potential bonafide ,decent and law-abiding “tourist patients” from visiting the country as they do not want to experience streetside searches, hotel raids ,interrogations or urine tests etc. Potential overstayers and foreign criminals should have been turnaway in the first place at points of entry and stronger qualifications to gain entry such as higher financial proofs, security vettings should have been put in place to prevent such individuals from entering the country instead of disturbing real bonafide and decent law abiding tourists or patients.
Thailand really needs to get its act together and a concerted effort by both the various government agencies and the private sector is needed to combat the issues the Medical Tourism sector is facing. Individual hospital owners need to put aside their egos and work with other owners in setting up common standards, goals and even pricings while also be willing to pay and employ professionals in the medical marketing field to assists their goals and strategies. Thailand really has the perfect natural resources for the tourism sector and its medical doctors
and expertise are really excellent and world class, all it needs is proper and strategic tweakings.