A weathered Myanmar man hobbles by on the footpath dressed in a crisp shirt and longyi as several portly Middle Eastern women in abayas clamber out of a car. By the driveway next to them, a warden directs a seemingly endless stream of cars and the odd ambulance turning up at one of the most profitable private hospitals in Thailand.
Bumrungrad International Hospital in central Bangkok is sitting in a pretty good place. It reported a 43 per cent year-on-year growth in earnings in the first half of this year and a net profit margin of 20 per cent. But it is not resting on its laurels.
As South-east Asia gets ready for the official introduction of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) on Dec 31, the hospital is positioning itself to increase the traffic of wealthy Myanmar patients to Bangkok by building a diagnostic and primary care facility in the neighbouring country’s commercial capital Yangon.
The AEC is expected to feature freer movement of capital, investment, services and skilled labour within this region of 600 million people. Asean member states are expected to allow foreign ownership of up to 70 per cent across more than 100 business types. On paper, eight groups of professions will enjoy easier access to regional talent: Engineers, tourist professionals, dentists, architects, surveyors, accountants, nurses and doctors.
But Bumrungrad’s corporate chief executive Dennis Brown does not foresee a sudden spike of foreign doctors joining Thailand’s lucrative medical tourism sector. Despite the mutual recognition agreements that commit Thailand to recognising the qualifications of professionals from other countries, doctors and nurses, for example, still need to obtain a licence by taking examinations in Thai.
“There are still some remaining hurdles,” he tells The Straits Times. “This is Thailand, people here do speak Thai, you would expect the doctor to speak Thai. I have no problem with that. But Thai is not a widely spoken language.”
A qualified medical doctor from any foreign country who wants to practise in Thailand will need to take a three-part examination: Two theoretical sections in English and a practical section in Thai.
“We think communication is important,” says Medical Council of Thailand’s president Somsak Lohleka. “If you don’t understand, how do you examine the patient?”
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