Thailand Hospitals: What to Do When You Need Medical Treatment

thailand hospitals: what to do when you need medical treatment

Sooner or later you’re going to have to visit a hospital in Thailand. Maybe you’ll come down with the flu. Maybe you’ll have an accident. Or, maybe you’ll need a place to deliver your baby. If you stay in Thailand long-term, your bound to visit a hospital.

Although it might sound like a bummer to get sick in Thailand, there is good news. Hospitals in Thailand are just as good, if not better, than hospitals in the West. And they’re a lot cheaper too.

Foreigners from many countries, especially countries in the Middle East, fly here to just to get medical treatment. They pay much less than what they’d pay in their own countries.

After living in America for ten years, I moved back to Thailand in 2014 with my husband and out first daughter. And during this time, my husband, my daughters (now we have two), and I have had treatment in all types of hospitals, from government hospitals to premium clinics to private hospitals.

Here’s what you need to consider when getting medical treatment for yourself and your loved ones.

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Hospital Type

Hospitals in Thailand are mainly separated into two major categories: government hospitals and private hospitals. While both types can help treat your ailments, the experience you get will be totally different. Some big government hospitals also offer an upgraded service called “premium clinics,” where you can get medical treatment with less queue time.

As a busy mom with two toddlers, traveling anyplace with kids, especially to hospitals, is sometimes stressful. So I often go to a private hospital when my children have to see a doctor. Yet, when it comes to my health and I can travel alone, I visit doctors at a premium clinic or a government hospital.

Lets look at hospital types more closely.

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Government Hospitals

Most government hospitals in Thailand are operated under the Ministry of Public Health or medical schools. Essentially, these hospitals focus more on low-cost medical treatment for Thai citizens than they do expats and international patients.

Government hospitals are always crowded. You are usually required to go to there early in the morning–like 6am–to queue up for medical treatment. Some people may get there even earlier than that.

Good customer service may not be their first priority because of the significant number of patients they need to deal with each day. And from this reason, you might wait a few hours just to see a doctor for a few minutes.

Hospital staff are still helpful and friendly also, but they will not have much time to talk or take care of you. You may need to call them a few times in order to make an appointment or request information. So be patient with them.

IPD Room inside Siriraj Hospital, one of the best and most crowded hospitals in Thailand
A shared room inside Siriraj Hospital, one of the best but most crowded hospitals in Thailand.

In case you need to have surgery, most of the time you’ll need to wait a month or two or even more, unless it’s urgent. We personally know someone who waited three years to get his jaw fixed.

Unless it’s a small hospital in a rural area, doctors’ expertise and medical equipment in government hospitals are similar to private hospitals. Some big hospital runs by medical schools such as Siriraj Hospital, Chulalongkong Hospital, and Ramathibodi Hospital can even have better equipment than private hospitals.

When dealing with sicknesses that need specific medical equipment, some private hospitals may even refer and send patients to these major government hospitals instead.

At government hospitals, you won’t find an international help desk with someone who can speak English fluently. However, staff, including nurses and doctors, can communicate in basic English.

Cost is one of the greatest benefits of government hospitals. The price you pay for treatment will be less than prices at private hospitals. And they don’t inflate the cost of medications like private hospitals do.

Private Hospitals

Private hospitals should normally be your go-to hospitals unless you want to wake up very early morning and spend your day mostly waiting a few hours at government hospitals. Private hospitals have also been recruiting more experienced medical specialists to attract more people to their hospitals.

With this in mind, you will usually get better treatment with good customer service at private hospitals. You’ll even have a lot of time to talk to doctors about your sickness, which is unlikely to happen at government hospitals.

Customer service is the key selling point of private hospitals in Thailand. Staff who work there are well-trained and treat their patients kind. They are willing to help you have a smooth visit and will not leave you confused about what to do and where to go next.

But all of the perks of private hospitals come with a price. You are expected to pay at least a thousand baht or two, for example, just for a standard checkup if you have the flu.

If you don’t want to pay the medical costs that come with visiting private hospitals, but still want the superior service, just get health insurance from Luma.

You’ll know exactly how much you need to pay per year rather than hoping your hospital visit will not break your wallet.

They are also partnered with many top-tier hospitals, including Bangkok Hospital and Bumrungrad. You only need to show an insurance card and have all paperwork and payment taken care of.

One of the leading private hospitals in Thailand is BBangkok Hospital. In addition to experienced doctors and advanced medical equipment, they can also help you get a visa for your medical treatment, help with medical evacuation, and find you a limousine to transfer you to and from the airport.

They have staff on hand who can speak English, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, German, French, and more.

Bangkok Hospital
Bangkok Hospital

Other notable hospitals in Thailand include Bumrungrad Hospital, Samitivej Hospital, BNH Hospital, and Phyathai Hospital.

We’ve dedicated an in-depth guide to private hospitals in Bangkok to give you an idea about which you should visit for your concerns

Premium Clinics

Some government hospitals have special clinics called “premium clinics.” They are basically an upgraded version of a government hospital but provide medical services outside of working hours, while offering less wait time, and usually more experienced doctors. Many doctors here are experienced specialists who even teach inside medical schools.

The income that premium clinics collect will also be spent to support poor patients who need intensive treatments but cannot afford paying medical bills. So when you visit a premium clinic, you’re doing your part to help someone in a less-fortunate situation.

During my first year back in Thailand, when I needed to see a doctor for emergency surgery, I went to a private hospital because I knew that good customer service was their first priority. But we paid 50,000 baht for the surgery. After talking to my family in Thailand, they recommended a premium clinic, where the same surgery would’ve cost one-third that amount.

Seeing a doctor in premium clinics always puts me at ease because I know that I will see a medical specialist. And lots of my medical bills have been cheaper since switching to premium clinics. I pay the same amount to see the doctor that I’d pay at a private hospital, yet the cost of medical treatment, screenings, and medication is a lot cheaper.

Currently there are no international language centers inside premium clinics. Doctors, nurses, and staff can communicate in basic English. But you may want to bring a translator or Thai friend to help you.

Doctors, nurses, and staff still have to handle many patients so I sometimes experience poor moods from them. Moreover, scheduling for admission to have surgery, get special medications, or have other treatments still comes with a longer wait time.

Doctors

Generally, to the best of my knowledge, there are different types of doctors who you will meet at government and private hospitals. At government hospitals, you may meet three types of doctors:

  • resident-doctors who are licensed to practice medicine but are learning a specialty
  • fellow-doctors who have completed their residency and are doing additional specific training
  • attending-doctors who are experts in their specialty and have their own healthcare team

While visiting government hospitals, you may become a case study for intern doctors and medical students.

In contrast, At private hospitals, most doctors are fellow doctors and attending doctors.

This is because Thai private hospitals, especially ones that have good reputations like Bangkok Hospital, want patients to see only the best doctors.

Lastly, at premium clinics all doctors who you meet will be fellow-doctors and attending-doctors from medical university hospitals.

Waiting Time

The waiting time for government hospitals is much longer than private hospitals. If you don’t have a medical emergency you’ll need to get a queue number. But everyday the queue closes at 7am or 8am for popular hospitals. If you miss the queue, you’ll need to come again next day.

If you already have an advanced appointment, the waiting time is not that different from private hospitals. But appointments are usually only available for patients who require follow-ups.

Be sure to come early as possible when visiting a government hospital. Otherwise, you need to come again tomorrow.
Be sure to come as early as possible when visiting a government hospital if you don’t want to make multiple trips.

In case you need to do further medical checkups, scans, or surgery, for non-emergency cases, expect your wait to last a few months. You need to wait for the medical equipment. You need to wait for medical stuff. And even if the hospital sets an appointment for you, they can postpone it for various reasons.

Private hospitals are better in regards to time. You can go to the hospital at any time that is convenient for you. Even if you go at night, you will see doctors who are standing by for emergency cases.

The result of detailed blood tests and medical checkups will be available for you within a week or two. Some hospitals might even be able to provide it within a few days, or maybe even the same day. And you don’t need to wait months to get surgery.

Procedure

Whether vising a government hospital, premium clinic, or private hospital, the process is generally the same. Unless otherwise noted, here’s a rundown of everything you need to do, from finding a hospital to paying for your medical bills.

Searching

The internet is the best way to find information about the hospital you want to visit. Just keep in mind that most searches for Thailand hospitals show results for private hospitals. Each hospital’s website also provides info in English and maybe other languages, such as Chinese and Japanese.

Another way is to good way is to ask from fellow expats such as from our Thailand Starter Kit Private Facebook Community.

You can also check our private hospitals in Bangkok article. It shows you a list of hospitals based on their specializations, so you’ll have a good idea which hospital to go to when you have certain ailments.

Making an Appointment

For a private hospital, there are English version online applications on the websites. You can make your first appointment and choose a specialist from the website. Moreover, after making an appointment, it will usually take 48 hours for the hospital to contact you. On the day of your appointment, make sure that you get to the hospital at least 15 to 30 minutes early to avoid any difficulty in finding your department (Some hospitals in Thailand are gigantic).

On the other hand, for government hospitals and premium clinics, walking in for the first visit is usually required for expats, international patients, and even local Thais. Keep in mind that even with an appointment with government hospitals and premium clinics, you have to be there as early as possible. Ideally before 7am. Otherwise, you might not see a doctor that day.

In addition, as a reminder, many leading hospitals can set up a phone-call confirmation for patients who want a one-day notice before their appointment.

Arriving

Commuting to places in Bangkok can be a difficult task and stressful for expats, especially for those who’ve just moved here. Make sure you plan your trip ahead. Mass transportation such as the BTS or MRT are recommended during busy hours to help you get to a hospital on time. It is essential to arrive at the hospital at least 30 minutes early if you already have an appointment.

Traffic in Bangkok is unpredictable especially during rush hour. BTS and MRT is usually a better alternative.
Traffic in Bangkok is unpredictable, especially during rush hour. The BTS and MRT are better alternatives.

If it is your first visit to private hospital, you should plan on arriving about 45 minutes before the time that you need to see a doctor. Usually it takes around that much time to register, get a check-up, and wait for a doctor.

If it is your first visit to government hospitals, be sure to arrive as early as possible in the morning, around 6am, to fill in your registration forms, get a queue number, and see a doctor.

Registering

The primary document that you and other international patients need to use when registering for hospitals both online and in-person is your passport. Even if you’ve already made an appointment via online application, be sure to bring your passport every time you visit.

If you decide to walk-in, you will experience quick registration at most private hospitals. At the registration desk, which is usually located on the first floor of each hospital, admissions staff will take some information about you and fill in your application forms. Your photo will be taken and staff will register your data. Then you’ll receive your hospital card. If it is your first visit, staff will bring you to the department where your doctor is located.

If you have health insurance, you’ll need to show your insurance card during this process.

bring a thai translator to hospital

Please bring a Thai translator if possible when going to government hospitals, especially if it’s your first visit. She or he can help you through the process of registration. After finishing the process, you will receive a hospital card. It is ideal to remember the hospital number on your card.

Keep in mind that you will always need to provide the hospital number on your card every time you need to contact the hospital or make any changes to your appointment over the phone.

At premium clinics, you can plan a trip to the admissions department to register for a hospital card. Then you can make an appointment over the phone when you get sick. Registering in advance will save you lots of time.

Seeing a Doctor or Specialist

When you visit a Thai hospital the process usually goes like this:

If you don’t make an appointment but you need to see a doctor on the same day, hospital staff first screen you.

Then they send you to do a basic checkup where staff check your height, weight, and temperature.

They may ask you questions about your symptoms and suggest that you see a general practitioner to diagnose you, and if needed, refer you to a specialist.

But you can still request to see a specialist on your first visit.

If you want to see a doctor at Bangkok Hospital, fill in their online contact form and ask to see a specialist on your first visit.

They will schedule you with a specialist that’s most suitable for your case.

If you want to see a doctor at another hospital, visit the hospital’s website and look for the doctor’s name, their schedule, and their education and experience.

You can then do some research and see if that’s the doctor you’d like to see.

You can also ask to see a specialist at premium clinics. You can search for a doctor’s schedule online, or the clinic will give you the schedule when you register at their hospital.

Getting Admitted

If you need to be admitted to a hospital, nurses will come and present you with a list of available rooms. You can choose to stay in a private room or in a shared room with 2, 4, 5, or even more than 10 beds.

There are even VIP rooms and royal suites for private hospitals like Bumrungrad Hospital. Each hospital also offers different amenities depending on the type of room you choose. Most private hospitals list their prices online. This will help you check and estimate the “stay” portion of your medical bill in advance.

IPD room inside Bumrungrad hospital that give a feeling of staying in a hotel than hospital
The patient rooms inside Bumrungrad Hospital give you the feeling of staying in a hotel.

Prices for each room vary depending on which department and ward will you be staying in.

Your options are more limited with government hospitals due to the amount of patients they need to treat. Sometimes they don’t even have any rooms available. In this case, they add extra beds to already crowded rooms.

Paying Bills

In some countries like America, if you don’t have health insurance, you can ask to be put on a payment plan if you need extra time to pay your medical bills. Conversely, in most Thai hospitals, patients will have to pay out of pocket their full medical bill after their treatment is done. In this case, you can pay by cash, credit, or debit card.

Paying medical bills at government hospitals and premium clinics still involve many steps. At most government hospitals, you usually need to follow these steps:

  • drop off your prescription at the pharmacy and get your queue number
  • wait until your number and name are shown on a cashier’s screen
  • pay your medical bill
  • pick up your medication

At some private hospitals, you will get your queue number after seeing a doctor. Then, you would need only to go to the pharmacy, wait for your queue, and pay your bill there.

Decreasing Bills

Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, it can be separated into two cases when paying the bill. If the insurance company you are being insured with is a partner of the hospital you’re visiting, all you need to do is sign some documents prepared by the hospital and you won’t have to pay anything if the medical expenses are within your healthcare coverage package.

On the other hand, if the hospital isn’t a partner of your insurance company, you need to keep your medical receipts and apply for reimbursement later. The procedure is the same for a social security card holder.

Alternative Options

For common sicknesses, you might not need to go to a hospital. Clinics can also be found all around Thailand and provide you with a decent level of medical treatment, including basic health checkups and blood tests. There are even specialized clinics for skin disease, maternity needs, physical therapy, and so on.

In addition to clinics, in Thailand you are able to buy most medications without prescriptions. Go to any pharmacy and tell them what bothers you, and they should be able to give you some medication in return. But there are still certain pills that can only be issued with a medical prescription.

But to be honest, you might be running the risk of not finding out whether or not your symptoms are a cause of something more serious.

So it’s always best to visit a doctor at one of the many government or private hospitals in Thailand. We recommend Bangkok Hospital.

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