Interview: Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth
How have the floods affected the operational outlook within the health sector?
PRASERT PRASARTTONG-OSOTH: The number of inpatients we have received since the beginning of the floods has risen by 30%, although our outpatients have fallen by 50%. International business has ebbed and flowed with news of flooding in Bangkok, but given that inpatients generate on average 10 times the amount outpatients do, the profitability of the health care market may not have been too adversely affected in 2011.
In what ways is rising competition affecting the shape of the private health care sector?
PRASERT: We are seeing a growing trend of mergers and acquisitions in the private health care sector. The acquisition of Kasemrad Hospital Group by Bumrungrad Hospital Group (in which BDMS has also taken a stake) is one example. As Thailand moves toward the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, standalone hospitals will be increasingly challenged by competition from the region, unless they are highly specialised in one domain.
If only for the pressure on staff as groups poach from each other, competition is set to become fiercer and scale will matter. This is why BDMS is keen to build its reputation in the country and the region.
What are the challenges and opportunities in catering to medical tourism?
PRASERT: Political unrest has disturbed the medical tourism business, especially from longer-haul travellers. Patients from South-east Asia know Thailand well, and tend to return faster after such events than health tourists from further afield.
Hospitals should look at different forms of marketing and promotion in attracting international medical tourism. This segment of patient intake can be promoted by working through agents and tour operators, but we have also found that it can be more fruitful to work through doctors, as we do for the Myanmar market, for example. Our doctors speak to doctors in that market to attract referrals.
What are the regional differences within Thailand in terms of medical tourism?
PRASERT: We see differences between the big city, Bangkok, and smaller towns – places like Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and even Korat, which has been growing in popularity of late. Hospitals in Bangkok, such as Bumrungrad, Bangkok Hospital, Samitivej and BNH attract medical tourists to the capital. Phuket and Pattaya have also been gaining attention as medical tourism destinations in other regions.
Do you see the launch of private-sector wings in public hospitals as competition?
PRASERT: This is very welcome competition. It is encouraging that renowned medical schools are entering into such ventures. We have been cooperating with some facilities in establishing what they call excellence centres. Private hospitals provide about 30% of services in Thailand. Many public hospitals are running over capacity, so there is a clear need for more facilities. We would like to think of it as public-private-professional partnerships – PPPPs.
Is insurance coverage important for patients going to private hospitals?
PRASERT: Many of our patients are covered by insurance, although this is usually private insurance. We are working to attract public coverage from countries in the EU and the US (through Medicare), but we have only concluded an agreement with French Social Security thus far. As national health schemes are funded by taxes, this can be a sensitive topic.
Western tourists tend to be covered by private insurance, while patients from Asia are rarely covered and prefer to pay cash. Private insurance in Thailand has grown only slowly. We expect it to grow as health care becomes more expensive over time.
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