28 Sept 2007
Thai medical tourism to spur equipment sales
Thai medical tourism is certainly generating huge demand from the local hospitals involved in this sector, with a consequent generation in sales of equipment; that's not to mention the demand for capital infrastructure. Many Thai hospitals and medical centres have recently been listed on the Thai stock market to raise funds for investment in equipment and construction.
The growth of Thai medical tourism has relied on the availability of overseas-trained doctors and specialists, excellent emergency and surgical facilities, logistics (such as helicopters and other aircraft), and technology: patients' records can be swiftly obtained via the Internet and doctors can communicate in English. There is also the environment - patients who choose to convalesce in Thailand's private hospitals can expect high standards and surprisingly low fees.
The price of medical treatment is mostly lower when comparing nearby Asian countries with broadly similar care and technology. The hospital environment in Thailand is also generally more hospitable than that of its neighbours, probably due to Thailand's long history in the hospitality industry.
Given the background, sales and returns from medical tourism in Thailand are expected to increase spectacularly over the coming few years, since this currently represents only US$850 million a year, a small proportion of the total income generated by Thai tourism.
In the Asia Pacific region, the medical equipment and supplies market is forecast to grow by 30%, to about US$43 billion by 2010, and few doubt that Thailand intends to capture a large part of the service market that will supply.
By 2013, Southeast Asian consumer health care expenditure is expected to rise to US$188 billion from US$99 billion in 1999, and that doubling of growth should largely be due to the availability of increasing medical tourism services in Thailand and other specialist centres.
The market for medical equipment and supplies in Thailand is expected to grow 20% this year, mainly due to the expansion of heath care facilities, replacement of medical equipment and upgrades to serve private hospitals, according to Dr Chatri Banchuin, director general of the Thai Department of Medical Services.
Growing China supply connection
While Thailand's internal market for producing medical devices grew 20% in 2006, about 87% of products used in the Thai medical services sector are imported. Healthcare devices and accessories from the US account for 27% of imports, followed by Germany at 14%, Japan at 12% and China at around 7%.
But China is providing by far the largest growth sector for medical products, with imports of equipment up 41% in 2006, year-on-year.
Products most in demand from China include massage equipments, spectacle lenses, optical frames and parts and accessories for medical equipment.
Since Thailand needs high-tech medical equipment and accessories, it imports more than 85% of its total requirement.
Hong Kong traders with a background in the medical field could well consider exporting higher-end products used in this sector.
Bioland Technology Ltd of Hong Kong, which produces portable wrist blood pressure monitors, could be the kind of model to come up with high-tech scanner units, for example, according to industry players.
Similarly a Hong Kong company such as Plenty Harvest Manufacturing, which produces steel tools could adapt to medical parts and accessories.
Industry observers believe some of the most urgent segments of demand include those for X ray machines, heart valves and implants as well as parts and accessories for disabled chairs.
Importers of medical devices into Thailand need to watch regulations closely. These currently provide:
from Phennapa Bundhurat, Bangkok Office