Economy and Investment

Future of Thai medicine: Siriraj charts course

by Duangkamol Buranasomphop


            New private hospital deals with issues of the future: Asean free flow of labour from 2015, paying for free healthcare, overcrowding, and advanced medical education.  A new medical complex at Siriraj Hospital, the oldest medical school in the country, stands by the Chao Phraya River. Siriraj is set to officially open its private offshoot, Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun (SiPH),

            Thailand's oldest medical school is launching a new private hospital as an alternative for patients and a means for it to cope with the impending free flow of medical personnel after the launch of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 

            The faculty of medicine at Siriraj Hospital, which turns 124 years old this year, will officially open its private offshoot Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun (SiPH) tomorrow on the anniversary of its founding by King Rama V.  The new hospital, located by the Chao Phraya River, is a 14-storey building with 177 outpatient rooms, 284 inpatient rooms, 17 operating theatres, and 61 intensive care units. 

            "Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun is an alternative for patients who can pay out of their own pocket for better services yet want to receive the same quality treatment as offered by the original Siriraj Hospital," said Dr Pradit Panchavinin, director of SiPH.  The state-owned Siriraj Hospital receives more than 2.8 million patients a year but has only 2,221 beds and 851 doctors. Overcrowding and long wait times are unavoidable. 

            The new facility will also serve as a model for state hospitals to offer international standard care is self-sustainable and contribute financially to the medical school.  While Siriraj Hospital's faculty of medicine is responsible for producing medical doctors for the country, as a non-profit medical school hospital it loses 10 baht for each 100 baht invested in medical studies, research and development.

            According to Dr Pradit, SiPH will rely on services from doctors and medical staff from Siriraj Hospital who will each rotate to work at the new hospital for around five hours every week.  Fees will be 20% lower than those charged by leading private hospitals, he said.  During the first phase, the hospital will operate only partially. It is scheduled to offer full services in 2015, the year when the AEC comes into effect. 

            The liberalization means medical workers will be allowed to work in any Asean country. There are concerns that the AEC will lead to an influx of foreign doctors and nurses coming to work in Thailand or a local brain drain if Thai medical professionals seek better opportunities in other Asean countries.

            A study on the impacts of trade in health services among the European Union countries by the International Health Policy Programmed found that while a free flow of health workers could improve economic efficiency - the receiving countries benefited from the additional medical personnel while the sending country benefited from remissions [remittances] - but the sending countries also experienced brain drains.

            The study found that the number of medical doctors in the United Kingdom increased from more than 130,000 in 2000 to more than 150,000 in 2007. The country also had the highest number of foreign medical doctors, mostly from India, South Africa, Pakistan, Ireland and Germany.

            The study, however, reported a medical brain drain in Romania. More than 1,700 physicians, mostly surgeons and anesthesiologists, registered to work in Britain, Germany and France during January-August 2011 mainly due to better financial incentives. Dr Pradit said the launch of SiPH would increase incentives for health professionals to stay in the country. 

            He said he hopes the new private-style hospital will also reduce the number of medical professionals leaving state hospitals - where they have to work hard for a low pay - for better compensation at private operations.

            Medical Council of Thailand president Amnat Kusalanan said the issue of trade liberalization has both pros and cons. But medical schools, the first frontier as producers of medical doctors and health workforce, have no choice but to adapt to the coming changes  Running international courses on medical studies is one of the strategies some medical schools have adopted. 

            Dr Amnat said the council may need to adapt itself as well. Currently, all new medical school graduates have to pass tests in medical knowledge and patient examination in Thai before receiving a medical practice license. However, it may have to make an English-language version of the medical knowledge test available when regional liberalization comes into effect three years from now.



Duangkamol Buranasomphop

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