Purple Dragon, Asia's Gay Travel Pioneers Medical Tourism

What is "medical tourism?"

Medical tourism is simply the act of going to another country primarily for the purposes of health care, particularly if health care is combined with a holiday.

For most people in developed countries, the idea of medical tourism might be something strange and new. In practicality, however, health care in lesser developed countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America does not meet an international standard or does not exist at all. Consequently, people in those countries who have money routinely travel to places like Thailand for medical attention.

Why Thailand?

To begin with, the mother of Thailand's King was a nurse and his father was an M.D., so a medical career is highly prestigious and often involves extensive study abroad. Consequently, Thailand has some of the best trained medical professionals in the world. You can read the interesting story of Prince Mahidol below.

Second, Thailand is a great place to recover.  Enjoy wonderful weather, relaxing places, amazing food and everything Thailand has to offer. Or would you rather stay at home in front of the TV?

Thailand offers the latest technology. New treatments, devices and medicines are often approved before other countries, where some technology languishes for years or even decades as it is "studied." In particular, Thailand is a pioneer of stem cell treatments. Stem cells from your own blood are cultured into large masses, that are





The other big reason to visit Thailand for health care is the low cost. Thailand offers world class health care at costs that are usually a fraction of you would expect to pay in North America, Europe or Australia/NZ. Consequently, an increasing number of people from those places travel to Thailand to seek medical or dental help, especially for things that are not covered by their health insurance or government health plan at home. And because this has become such a big industry, substantial investments have been made in a vast choice of medical facilities.


Thai Medicine Today

Many hospitals and private clinics meet or exceed international standards. The best of them deliver everything foreign patients expect: comfort, staff who can communicate in many languages, sensitivity to each patient's cultural requirements (including diet, religion, privacy and visitors, among other things), and the best medical care available.

Thailand is also on the cutting edge of technology. While some kinds of equipment or procedures are slow to become to available to the public because of strong government controls and/or astronomical costs, Thailand's hospitals are among the first to offer anything new. This does not mean that Thailand offers innovative procedures recklessly. However, Thailand strikes a balance between results, need and risks. Thailand offers some kinds of therapies for people who have fewer options than others.

Because costs are lower in Thailand, Thai hospitals normally have a better ratio of nurses to patients than almost anywhere else. Thai facilities normally have one licensed nurse on duty for each two to four patients,  while many hospitals abroad have a ratio of as many as eight to twelve patients per nurse.

Why is Thailand's Health Care So Good?

This is not a short story, but it is worth reading to fully understand Thailand's legacy of quality health care.

Thailand's owes its tradition of exceptional health care to Prince Mahidol Adulyadej,  father of Thailand's present long-reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He is regarded as the father of modern medicine and public health of Thailand. Like many children of his stature, Prince Mahidol was sent abroad to study. Medical and public health education did not receive much attention at that time, and medical practice was far behind Western standards.  Mahidol began to take an interest in medicine. Time passed and he received a degree in Public Health from Harvard University in 1921.

Afterwards he asked that four Thai students to be selected to study in the U.S. -- two medical students whose educations would be funded by Mahidol himself, and two nursing students who would be funded by his mother, the Queen. One of the nursing students  was eighteen year-old Sangwal Talabhat, who later became the wife of Prince Mahidol and the mother of two future kings of Thailand.

Several years passed before the Prince returned to Harvard to get his degree as a Doctor of Medicine (cum laude).  The present King was born in Massachusetts while the Prince was a Harvard student.

After returning to Thailand the Prince established scholarships for promising Thais to study medicine abroad. Even though he did so many decades ago, his legacy and his scholarship foundation remain. The students sent abroad under his scholarships became key leaders in modern medicine of Thailand. Many were regarded as great teachers. Some helped establish new medical schools and universities. The Royal Medical School later became Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital in 1943. In 1969 the Medical University became Mahidol University.

For more information:

The Bangkok Post's Biography of Prince Mahidol