Can a doctor in Thailand speak English and other related FAQs

If you are a foreigner staying in Thailand, there may come a time where you need to go to a clinic or a hospital to seek medical treatment. The following FAQs are based on my own experiences visiting clinics and hospitals in Thailand. I have visited both government and private hospitals.

FAQs when receiving medical treatment in Thailand

Q: Can a Thai doctor in a hospital in Thailand converse in English?

A: I visited Thai hospitals, both private and government a number of times as my mom (who is staying in Thailand with me) have health issues that require constant follow-ups. So far, I have never met any Thai medical doctors who could not speak English as I understand that they receive their medical education in English. All were able to communicate in the English language, both spoken and written. However, there may be some degree in fluency, however they can all understand English. In terms of medical reports, by default it is written in Thai language but if you need to request a report or a referral letter in English, they would be able to get one prepared with no issue.

I also noticed that if we need to perform scans like CAT scans or ultrasounds, if we request a copy of the radiology report, it seemed to be all written in English. The English is often well written with clear medical explanation of the medical condition.

Do note that while all doctors could converse in English, you would first need to get through the staff and you may face challenges as the frontline staff and nurses. Further explanation in the question below:

Q: Do I need to get a  Thai friend to accompany me when I visit a Thai hospital if I cannot speak Thai?

A: Yes, it is strongly advisable that you request a person who can speak in Thai to accompany you while you visit the hospital. This is because from my experience, many front desk staff and nurses that handles registration and preliminary checks such as initial assessment, answering questionnaires, taking blood or blood pressure, etc usually would not be able to converse in English.

Another reason why you need help is because most Thai hospitals, especially government hospitals have their own ‘system’. While we can understand and figure it out after a couple of visits, if you are visiting for the first time or going to a different section in the hospital, you may be at the lost of their ‘system’ and the frontline staff may not be able to explain to you in English. For example, you need to figure out on registration, checkup, their queue system, when to know it is your turn, how to set the next appointment (for example, in some hospital the doctor would hand you a slip which you must remember to hand to the desk nurse to fix the appointment), payment and collection of medication. It can be real complicated and daunting if you are foreigner who cannot converse in fluent Thai (basic Thai often does not cut it).

You may have better luck if you are visiting a private hospital in the major city and tourist areas like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket or Hatyai. Usually private hospitals would have a staff on duty that could converse in English.

Q: Do a foreigner need to pay more when visiting a hospital in Thailand?

A: Yes. Thais are eligible for the 30 baht medical coverage in government hospitals, ie they just need to pay 30 baht for the entire treatment which include medication and hospitalization (do note that extra charges may apply in the case of certain medication or private hospital room). This is of course, not extended to non Thai residents (same practice in any country). In private hospitals, the 30 baht medical coverage is of course not applicable unless there is special arrangements being made.

For foreigners, we would need to pay more. In government hospitals, I find the charge to be quite reasonable. For example last year (in 2021), my mom was hospitalized for 7 days and 8 nights, with first being in ER (involve resuscitation), then the first few days in critical condition (stationed near the doctor’s area where the doctors could see her bed directly from their workdesk). We were in a common shared ward (non air conditioned) and the bill, including scans and medications came up to less than 30k baht.

However if it is in private hospital, the charge can be quite expensive. My mother had been hospitalized twice in a private hospital- both which requires intensive treatment with 1 time in ICU. In ICU, the cost for one night can come up to about close to 50k baht. If you are in the private hospital, you need to ask them for the estimated charge prior to admission. You can say you are on a budget and hence worry you may not be able to afford the full cost. From my experience, they are usually quite honest and will give a good estimation of the cost.

If you are staying in Thailand for long duration and you have a long term medical condition, if you have budget constraints, my advice is to go to a government hospital but bring a translator along with you. However if you are here on short term, have the money and do not have time to wait long in queue, then private hospital would be a better choice. I know of a businessman in Singapore who have kidney failure which requires ongoing dialysis. When he visit Thailand, he would check into the private hospital for dialysis (have to book appointment in advance but once date and time is fixed, he would be attended to quickly when he is in the hospital). He shared that for the quality of service and treatment he is receiving, the cost is lower than in Singapore, even though he had to fly over with his wife.

However do note that if you need to be warded in a Thai hospital, I think you would need the help of a person who can speak Thai to accompany you.

Q: What is the practice in Thai hospitals with the pandemic condition now in terms of visitors and caregivers?

A: I cannot say for all hospital. But my mom was recently hospitalized and I was her caregiver. When my mom was hospitalized in 2021, we could rotate caregivers but only 1 caregiver allowed at one time. However, the situation has changed. Each patient is allowed one dedicated caregiver. By dedicated, it means that once the caregiver comes in, they cannot leave the hospital premise but need to stay with the patient in the hospital. If it is a common ward, then they can pull a mat or a foldable chair next to the patient’s bed at night to sleep next to them. If it is a private room, usually there is a sofa that the caregiver can sleep on. Before admission, both the patient and the caregiver needs to undergo the covid testing.

If the caregiver have to leave the hospital premise, then when they come back, they would need to go for testing again. I paid 200 baht to take the test before I am allowed into the ward. After that, I never went out of the premise until my mother got discharged. Hospitals usually have their own in house canteen which usually have limited operation hours. They also have pharmacies and stores selling items you may need like towels, diapers, toiletries, etc. Some would have 7 Eleven and usually 7 Eleven outlets that are based in hospitals would have their own bakery section and a high variety of food.

Q: How about cost of medication. Are they expensive?

A: Both private and government hospitals have both the commercial brand as well as generic medicine. Most of these medication are manufactured in Thailand hence  I believe that is why they could keep the cost down. For example, my mom has chronic hepatitis B which she has been prescribed with Entecavir, which is a lifelong medication back in our home country. We had been taking the Baraclude, which is known as the best brand for Entecavir. The medication is also quite expensive in Malaysia. In Thailand, it cost about 8200 baht for 30 tablets which is for about a month. It is out of our budget. Both the private hospital and government hospital have their own generic versions. I shared about my mother’s experience with taking generic medication in this post.

Usually the original medication would be available in Thailand but it may cost a lot and the demand is low as most Thai government hospitals would prescribe generic medication. Some medication like Baraclude is not only very expensive but is not available government hospitals and pharmacies but you can try large retail pharmacy like Diamond Pharmacy which seems to have everything.

I hope these FAQs have been useful. I would be adding more FAQs from time to time when new scenarios come up.

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