Over the past few decades, medical technology has progressed at a rapid pace. Whether it be antibiotics, angioplasties, anti-viral therapy or implantable hips, the plethora of medical developments has contributed to a vastly improved quality of life for millions of people. In addition, such technological advancements have also served to help with the early identification of individual risk factors, thus reducing overall public healthcare costs and providing a greater number of patients with more affordable healthcare solutions.
These rapid developments in the healthcare technology sector have seen increased interest by big business and private investors alike. Venture capital firms in the USA, for instance, invested a staggering USD 23.4 billion dollars in their domestic healthcare market during the first three quarters of 2018 – a greater amount than was invested throughout the entire 12 months of the previous year. Similarly, Thailand has also positioned itself as an attractive market, offering multiple business opportunities throughout the sector including medical devices, technology and robotics.
Medicine : Innovation and technology
As part of a nationwide push towards further developing the country’s medical industry, Thailand’s private and public sectors have identified innovation and technology as the two primary drivers propelling the medical industry into a new age of success. With innovative technologies continuing to emerge, doctors and researchers alike have access to more treatment and medicine options than ever before. One prominent development that has received a significant amount of attention is the concept of ‘precision medicine’. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), precision medicine is a treatment approach that takes a person’s genes, behaviors, and environment into account. This approach is a paradigm shift for the medical industry, as it emphasizes the inherent need for individual treatment, rather than using the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. This innovative method is particularly effective in the treatment of diseases of a complex nature such as cancer.
Furthermore, over the past few years, the world has also witnessed a number of notable innovations across the healthcare sector including:
Artificial Intelligence: AI has become particularly important in areas of medicine such decision support, image analysis and triage. Such technology is essential for physicians to make more accurate and timely decisions on patient care.
3D printing: This technology allows for the production of medical devices that are tailored to each patient’s specifications. Results have indicated that this technology not only offers greater patient comfort, but also significantly reduces the risk of complications.
Virtual and mixed reality technology: Providing the ability to create simulated environments, virtual reality is an integral tool to supplement traditional medical schooling.
Robotic surgery: This technique provides surgeons with guidance to conduct their work with absolute precision. It also means that recovery times are shorter, therefore resulting in reduced cost outlays and greater productivity.
As innovative treatment options have expanded, so too has the technology that is used across all parts of the healthcare sector. From patient care to improved back-end processing, these technological advancements provide the foundation for hospitals and health care providers to offer enhanced and more cost-effective services. Examples of these advancements include:
Health record digitization: The shift from paper-based to electronic recordkeeping has provided an opportunity for allied health professionals to better manage patient information. This includes data such as vital signs and health conditions, billing, coding, scheduling and rebates. Such functions provide a range of benefits including improved patient care, simplified workflows and lower overall cost of healthcare.
Big data storage: In order to reduce costs and improve the quality of care, health providers are constantly having to store and transmit large amounts of information. This is primarily done via cloud storage – one of the safest and fastest ways to transmit data.
Mobile health: With most physicians using mobile devices or apps, patients can benefit from access to more direct and simplified communications with their healthcare provider. This supports increased efficiencies in billing, scheduling, payments and administrative red tape.
The way forward for Thailand
In line with Thailand’s position as a hub of medical treatment and medical tourism in Southeast Asia, hospitals across the country are leading the way in medical technology research and development. Primarily driven by Thailand’s rapidly ageing population and a rise in noncommunicable diseases, Thailand is quickly becoming a leading provider of medical care, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
According to research firm GlobalData, in 2016 alone Thailand imported more than USD 2.2 billion of pharmaceuticals. This is expected to grow by a further USD 7 billion by 2020. With such high demand for pharmaceuticals, many international companies have established facilities or developed relationships with Thai manufacturers.
Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second largest healthcare market, accounting for 20% of the region’s entire healthcare expenditure. In 2018, healthcare costs in Thailand hovered at approximately USD 27 billion USD. These costs are expected to rise to USD 30 billion by 2020. Such outlays provide significant opportunities for investors seeking to capitalize on the increased demand. It is expected that sectors for growth will include medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and medical services.
To encourage a greater volume of investment, the BOI continues to offer a range of tax and non-tax incentives. Examples of activities eligible for the incentives as well as details of the incentives provided by the BOI will be given in a later section in this edition of Thailand Investment Review. When looking at the future of the healthcare industry in Thailand, the healthy outlook for investors is expected to propel Thailand towards its goal of becoming the No. 1 center of wellness and medical services in Asia within the foreseeable future.