Bhutan’s development policy to promote medical tourism

Bhutan’s latest Draft Economic Development Policy seeks to open up the entire health sector to private investment and competition, on hospitals, doctors, nurses, equipment and medicine. The aim is to improve heath services and make the country a destination for health tourism.

Health secretary Dasho Gado Tshering says, “How long can we sustain the high costs of free health care on one side and the increasing demand for quality on the other. Every year the cost of medicine, equipment, diagnostics and treatment is becoming costlier. There are a growing number of affluent people in the country who want better health care and go abroad for health check ups. It will reduce the pressure on government hospitals as there are many people who want and can afford private hospitals.”

The development plan is to promote Bhutan as a wellness and health destination. It seeks up-market medical tourists by building new high-end luxury diagnostics and treatment facilities including wellness centres, spas, traditional medicines and hospitals. The aim is to make medical tourism a major economic service, with immense potential to generate employment and earn foreign exchange. Any new hospitals will have to keep a certain number of beds for Bhutanese patients.
The government’s planning unit wants direct investment from overseas companies and individuals, backed by the right regulations, to make the environment friendly for them. The policy will also allow private sector hospitals to bring in foreign doctors and nurses.
Bhutan is not a rich country so suffers from a shortage of doctors, nurses and hospitals.

When trained, doctors often go overseas. The government will develop incentives to retain doctors through pay, training, and continuing education. The country cannot afford to develop the industry itself, so rather reluctantly is turning to the private sector. Part of the plan is to encourage proper hospitals and clinics, with modern equipment and staff, compared to the current position of lots of small one-room clinics.

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked nation in South Asia at the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains. The country is bordered to the south, east and west by India and to the north by China. Bhutan is one of the most isolated and least developed nations in the world. Foreign influences and tourism are regulated by the government to preserve the nation’s traditional culture, identity and the environment.

There are some hospitals in India, particularly in Calcutta, that increasingly seek medical tourists from neighbours including Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh as these countries have less developed medical facilities, and travel to India is very easy. Bhutan nationals if entering India by land or air from the Bhutan border do not require a passport or visa for entering into India but are required to possess authorized identity proof.
In June, the Tourism Council of Bhutan visited Phyathai Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, for a full tour of the hospital, individual health check-ups, and a long discussion with the management team on medical tourism.