Thailand sets out to becoming Asia’s healthcare hub

September 13, 2017

Curving the niche via digitalisation in healthcare

Following Europe’s Industrie 4.0, Thailand comes up with its own Thailand 4.0, a value-based economic model driven by innovation, technology, and high-value trade and services. The implementation will be done in four phases and spanning 20 years. The piecemeal goal will integrate innovations such as digital and smart devices, robotics and mechatronics, connective and embedded technologies into services and across socio-economic activities.

Thailand is prepped for digitalisation. It has the adequate information technology and communications (ICT) ecosystem, braced by international gateways through landlines, underwater cables and satellites. Data from the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC) and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), indicate that ICT adoption is increasing.  As per a report, the country’s broadband subscribers in the latter quarter of 2014 reached more than 5 million, totalling nearly 27% broadband penetration/household.  Mobile phone use has also reached 120% in the country in 2015, with Thai mobile subscription reaching 40 million. This number is likely to double and increase 160% by 2021, according to a 2016 ICT report by Swedish mobile devices maker, Ericsson.  With the mobile use is the widening adoption of applications or apps.  Aside from banking, shopping, and communication apps, healthcare apps are becoming a focus for regional apps adoption as well as development, the report found.

Technology and innovation is crucial for sustained economic growth for the medical and healthcare sector,” said Dr Natchanapong Vajiravongburi, Inspector General, Ministry of Science and Technology, Thailand, speaking during the recent Medical Fair Thailand opening ceremony held in Bangkok.  He said that technology is “an enabler and facilitator of widespread change in the industry and the Internet of Things (IOT) allows digital healthcare to become an integrated part of our lives. Digital transformation is taking place globally. Digital technologies are disrupting existing products and services, while bringing about new possibilities and opportunities.”

Thailand, Southeast Asia’s medical hub

Thailand’s advancement into a more connective and digitalised economy heralds shifts in areas like healthcare is part of the country’s ambitious plan – to model a “digital economy”.

“Thailand is already well-positioned to be the medical hub of the region. With an excellent medical foundation that includes world-class medical facilities, premium healthcare services at highly competitive prices, qualified healthcare specialists and various internationally accredited medical facilities, Thai medical services are renowned worldwide, resulting in a rapid growth in supporting industries such as pharmaceuticals, laboratory tests and clinical R&D,” Vajiravongburi said.

Healthcare is a priority sector of the government. “The government spends 14% of its total budget on the healthcare industry, which accounts for 4.6% of Thailand’s GDP. This is considered to be the highest among ASEAN countries,” according to Vajiravongburi.

The Thailand Board of Investments (BOI) also echoed in a report the government’s efforts on placing the country in a position of influence in the sphere of global healthcare. Thailand is headed towards becoming “a Hub of Wellness and Medical Services” within a ten year time frame from 2016 to 2025, according to BOI. It furthered that the strategic ten-year plan, proposes to turn Thailand into a medical hub in four major areas: wellness, medical services, academics and products.

Medical devices, a market driver

Dr Preecha Bhandtivej, President of the Thai Medical Device Technology Industry Association (THAIMED), remarked during the recently concluded medical fair that there are over 160 local manufacturers of medical devices in the country. He said that most of the devices produced are lower-end devices such as disposable test kits and syringes, as well as latex products including surgical gloves and catheters. Over 80% of domestic production is exported.  On the other hand, there is also a wide variety of medical devices manufactured, and a substantial number of which are high-grade and sophisticated medical devices.  These are imported to meet the rising demand in the global market, Bhandtivej said.

Bhandtivej, providing a glimpse of the Thai medical sector, commented: “Within the Asia and Pacific region, the medical and supplies market could potentially reach US$43 billion within the next three years. This augurs well for the Thai industry. Despite escalating growth in both regional and domestic markets, Thailand is dependent on importing products, with approximately 87% of medical device equipment and accessories coming from other countries.”

Nevertheless, it is no doubt that the current market demand is high, and this opens up vast opportunities for Thailand to latch on, Bhandtivej said. The strong market demand offers broad opportunities for new investment in Thailand , as far as manufacturing of high-end medical devices is concerned;  as well, it  further strengthens Thailand’s position as a cost-effective production hub and a major player in the region,” he added.

The 8th edition of Medical Fair Thailand, held at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre from 6-8 September 2017, is the largest of its kind in the Southeast Asian region with a record-breaking exhibitor participation (830 companies from 66 countries) and international representation led by 18 national pavilions and country groups.

The exhibition presented more than 5,000 products and a full suite of equipment and supplies as well as new innovations for hospital, diagnostic, pharmaceutical, medical and rehabilitation use. Other highlights included focus on applying ‘Robotics for Mobility (to improve) the Quality of Life for the Ageing World’, augmenting prevention, monitoring and treatment services with the latest digital and technology-enabled products to enhance connectivity between healthcare providers and patients. Exhibits ranged from machines for robotic surgery, 3D printing, implantable devices and automation for artificial intelligence-led clinical setting.

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