Primary Care

How to find a Thai doctor

Learn what you need to know about Thai doctors, including accessing treatment, how to book appointments, and what costs are involved.

Close-up of a doctor holding an otoscope to a boy's ear in a clinic

By Gary Buswell

Updated 25-3-2024

As is the case all over the world, doctors play a key role in healthcare services in Thailand. And naturally, if you are moving to the country, you will want to understand how to access them should the need arise. Fortunately, you can find general practitioners and specialists across Thailand. However, how you access them depends on your circumstances.

So, to help you learn more, this article covers the following:

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An overview of the Thai healthcare system

Thailand has an extensive public healthcare system which is run by the Ministry of Health. It covers around 98% of the population and offers good quality healthcare, ranking an impressive 5th on the 2021 Global Health Security Index.

Thailand also has an average life expectancy of 79, which is above global and regional averages. However, while the quality of healthcare may be high, there are some downsides.

Hospitalized woman lying in bed while doctor checking her vitals.
Photo: TravelCouples/Getty Images

For instance, the country has experienced health professional shortages and currently has around 0.9 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, which is below the global average of 1.7. Moreover, less than half of these doctors work in public hospitals, and the majority are specialists.

In addition, some hospital doctors have been working up to 64-hour weeks due to shortages, which is way above the maximum of 48 hours per week. Needless to say, Thai doctors are under incredible strain.

You can access general practitioners in Thailand at clinics, health centers, and some hospitals. They generally offer checkups, diagnoses, prescriptions, advice, and referrals to specialists.

The Medical Council of Thailand (แพทยสภา) regulates all medical professionals in Thailand and grants licenses to those with the necessary qualifications to practice medicine.

Who can access Thai doctors?

All Thai citizens and legal working residents can access the country’s public healthcare services, including doctors. However, the type of doctor you can access depends largely on your health insurance status.

A man lies out stretched on the patient bed as the technician starts the CT scan.
Photo: SDI Productions/Getty Images

In addition to Thailand’s public health insurance scheme – which is linked to employment – there is a large network of private medical professionals that many expats use.

Foreign residents must be signed up to a public health insurance scheme through their employer. These schemes typically cover dependent family members too, however, you should check this in advance.

Anyone who is not able to access Thai public healthcare, for example, short-term residents and visitors, must pay to use private services or take out a private health insurance policy to cover the costs.

How can you find a doctor in Thailand?

If you are an expat working in Thailand, your employer will usually register you for public healthcare. You will then be assigned to a local primary care unit where you can access doctors’ services.

You can also search for private doctors through individual provider websites. For instance, many hospitals, clinics, and private insurers have online search facilities where you can find general practitioners and specialists.

Notably, it is worth using directories such as Thailand Medical News and Ogocare to find medical professionals across the country. If you want to look at feedback or ratings, Bookimed also has reviews for around 80 Thai doctors.

Finding English-speaking or multi-lingual doctors

If you are not confident about talking to a doctor in Thai, the good news is that many speak English to a reasonably good standard. A few doctors also speak other languages, such as French or German.

To find a good English-speaking healthcare professional in Thailand, you can use any of the following resources as well as those mentioned above:

Registering with a Thai doctor

You don’t need to register with a particular family doctor or GP if you use the public health service in Thailand. Once your employer has enrolled you for health insurance, you should receive a social security card and you will be automatically registered with public medical facilities in your district. That said, you are free to use any state-funded facility in the country.

a profile shot of a medical receptionist passing a form to a patient through a glass panel
Photo: Hispanolistic/Getty Images
Photo: Hispanolistic/Getty Images

For private services, the process depends on the individual provider. Some may offer registration with particular medical centers or healthcare professionals, while others will take appointments on a case-by-case basis.

You will need to check your insurance package to see whether other family members are included and can register too. If there is a registration process, you will need to provide a valid ID and proof of address.

Do you need an appointment to see a doctor?

You will typically need to make an appointment to see a doctor in Thailand, although some clinics and hospitals offer walk-in appointments. These can be busy, though, and you may have to wait several hours to be seen.

You can make an appointment in person or over the phone. In addition, many facilities now offer online booking through their website. In general, you will just have to give a few basic details about the reason for your appointment and then agree to a date and time.

Waiting times for appointments can vary from a few hours to several days, but possibly longer depending on availability and the nature of the complaint.

You will usually be able to see someone fairly quickly if you have an urgent issue, although you can choose to visit a hospital A&E department if you don’t want to wait and you feel the situation is serious.

Another option for less serious problems is a phone or video appointment, which some clinics now offer. Some providers also make home visits if you are unable to make it to the clinic or surgery, although this isn’t widely offered. You can also use a private home visit service such as Doctor On Call.

What to expect when visiting a Thai doctor

You will need to bring along your social security card when visiting a public health facility, or proof of your health insurance coverage when using a private doctor. You should head to the reception desk to inform them of your arrival.

Old lady turned around in her chair to look at the doctor sitting behind her at a health care clinic.
Photo: Ronnakorn Triraganon/Getty Images

Notably, it is best to arrive a few minutes before the appointment time, as Thai medical services are generally quite punctual, and you will usually be seen close to your appointment time, barring any incidents.

The appointment itself will typically be fairly brief and formal. Just bear in mind that Thai etiquette doesn’t involve too much touching. Therefore, if your doctor appears to be physically distant, it’s because of this and not because they don’t want to get close to you because you are ill.

Appointments generally involve a short discussion about symptoms, necessary medical examinations, a diagnosis, and details of what happens next. For example, a follow-up appointment, referral to a specialist, prescription, or simply some medical advice.

At the end of the appointment, you should return to the reception where you will typically have to settle the bill if you are using private services. Notably, some clinics may charge you before the appointment. Either way, make sure that you get a receipt so that you can claim reimbursement from your insurer.

What medical specialists does Thailand have?

Thailand has a large network of medical specialists who work across both public and private sectors. These include:

  • Cardiologists (แพทย์โรคหัวใจ)
  • Gynecologists (นรีแพทย์)
  • Oncologists (ผู้เชี่ยวชาญด้านเนื้องอกวิทยา)
  • Psychologists (นักจิตวิทยา)
  • Radiologists (รังสีแพทย์)

The Thailand Medical News directory provides information about the various types of specialists you can find in the country.

As mentioned, there are more specialists than family doctors in Thailand, and most of them operate in hospitals as well as specialist clinics and health centers. Like any other doctor, specialists are regulated by the Medical Council of Thailand.

Anyone can access specialist care, although you will usually need a referral if you are using public healthcare. You can access specialists directly through private insurance. Waiting times for appointments depend on the specialty but are generally shorter for privately run services.

Finding and visiting a specialist

You can find a specialist in Thailand by using the same resources as you would to find a general doctor, as previously mentioned. Alternatively, your family doctor or GP can refer you to a reliable, qualified specialist.

Woman listening to her doctor about which medicines she should take when.
Photo: Erdark/Getty Images

If you are using public services, your family doctor will typically make the appointment for you. For private treatment, however, you will have to follow your provider’s procedures. You can usually make an appointment either by phone or online. You may also be able to request a video or phone consultation, depending on what the issue is.

If you are attending a face-to-face appointment, don’t forget to bring your social security card (for public healthcare specialists) or proof of insurance (for private treatment).

Similar to private family doctor sessions, you will usually have to pay for private specialist consultations or treatments at the appointment and then claim reimbursement from your insurer. That said, insurers will often agree to cover expensive treatment costs directly.

The cost of a Thai doctor or specialist

As you would expect, medical costs in Thailand depend on the service or treatment you receive and whether you use public or private services.

Fortunately, you can cover most costs with insurance. If you use public healthcare, the Thai government subsidizes around 70% of most costs, and public insurance payments generally cover the remainder of basic consultations. Notably, there may be some out-of-pocket charges for specialist consultations or treatments but this is usually no more than around 10%.

Private insurance coverage depends on the individual policy, however, it is possible to take out comprehensive plans that cover the majority of fees.

In general, the average costs (before insurance payments are applied) are:

  • Public doctor consultation: ฿30–200
  • Private doctor consultation: ฿700–1,500
  • Public specialist consultation: ฿200–500
  • Private specialist consultation: ฿700–3,000

Treatment and surgery costs also vary widely. For example, extensive surgery such as a heart operation can cost as much as ฿500,000 on the private market.

a high angle close-up of a man paying at a medical center using his smartphone
Photo: kokouu/Getty Images

You will typically have to pay any outstanding amounts at the appointment. For private healthcare, you usually have to cover the full cost and then claim reimbursement. However, large costs – for example, surgery costs – are usually covered directly by the insurer. That said, you should check your insurance policy for details.

Health insurance in Thailand

Thailand’s healthcare system is mostly funded through general tax payments which cover just over 70% of public healthcare costs.

In addition to this, most public and private sector workers in Thailand pay into insurance schemes that entitle them to public healthcare. The majority of basic healthcare costs are covered through public insurance.

However, some of the main exclusions include:

  • Alternative medicine other than traditional Thai medicine
  • Fertility treatment
  • Mental healthcare without a referral
  • Physiotherapy not linked to rehabilitative recovery

Your employer will take care of social security registration for you. However, those who are not entitled to state insurance schemes – for example, retirees, students, and short-stay visitors – will have to take out private medical insurance to avoid paying the full costs for private treatment.

The following health insurance providers operate in Thailand:

Private doctors and specialists in Thailand

Although public healthcare in Thailand is generally high quality, many expats in the country choose to see private doctors and specialists. Around 10% of the overall Thai population has additional insurance to cover private medical care.

Doctor and nurse discussing a medical file in a hospital.
Photo: David Sacks/Getty Images

The advantages of private healthcare include more freedom and choice of provider – for example, you don’t need a referral to see a specialist – as well as shorter waiting times and a more extensive range of treatments.

You can cover private healthcare costs through supplimentary health insurance. Some employer insurance schemes also include access to private facilities. However, you should check with your employer to see what their medical policy is.

Private facilities in Thailand include:

Doctor prescriptions in Thailand

Both doctors and specialists are licensed to prescribe medication in Thailand. You can collect this from a pharmacy, which may be located on the main street or within a hospital or medical center.

Notably, only Type 1 pharmacies have licenses to provide prescriptions in Thailand. All pharmacies within hospitals and other healthcare establishments fall into this category.

Expats in Thailand are sometimes surprised by the availability of over-the-counter medicines in the country. For example, you can buy some antibiotics and birth control medication without a prescription. Other available medications include painkillers, cough medicine, and herbal remedies.

All official drugs need a license from the Food and Drug Administration (TFDA – สำนักงานคณะกรรมการอาหารและยา). Importantly, if you bring prescription medication into Thailand, make sure it is not on the TFDA-controlled drugs list; otherwise, you will have to apply for a permit.

Health insurance covers the costs of most standard prescription medication in Thailand. In fact, Thailand ranks as the least expensive country on the 2019 Medicine Price Index.

Medical tests in Thailand

You can access medical tests performed by doctors and specialists in Thailand. These typically take place if you:

  • Exhibit symptoms for a certain illness or condition
  • Need to pass a medical exam for something; for example, a particular job
  • Reach a certain age where you fall into a risk category for various diseases

Most tests will be carried out by specialists or nurses in hospitals and clinics. However, family doctors are also equipped to conduct some tests. The most common medical tests in Thailand include blood tests, urine/stool tests, and diagnostic imaging such as X-rays.

Thailand has a national cancer control program where everyone can access screenings for certain cancers when they are in target age groups. Many private providers also offer annual general health checks so that patients can monitor their health. This can include weight and body mass index (BMI) checks as well as blood and urine tests.

You can typically choose how you receive medical test results in Thailand. For example, this might be via post, email, or collecting them from the medical center.

If you are worried about your health or would like to request to be tested for something, you should contact your family doctor or local clinic immediately.

Are there emergency doctors in Thailand?

Emergency medical treatment is usually available at general hospitals through the Emergency department (ER). The Thailand Medical News website provides a list of more than 100 emergency doctors in the country.

Ambulance driving through a forested road, police officers guiding the way.
Chiang Rai, Thailand (Photo: Linh Pham/Getty Images)
Chiang Rai, Thailand (Photo: Linh Pham/Getty Images)

Most Thai doctors don’t offer emergency or out-of-hours services. However, if you use private healthcare, they may have a doctor-on-call service. You should check with your provider for details.

The number for medical emergencies in Thailand is 1669. You can also dial 1155 to get emergency medical advice for foreign residents. If you are a smartphone user, the National Institute for Emergency Medicine (NIEM) also has an emergency medical app that you can use if you need urgent care.

Anyone in Thailand can access emergency medical treatment regardless of their insurance situation. However, you may subsequently receive a bill if you are not adequately insured.

How to complain about a Thai doctor or specialist

If you have a complaint about a Thai medical professional, you should first contact the provider directly. They may be able to resolve the issue so that you don’t have to take it further.

However, if this proves unsuccessful, you can contact the following:

  • For public healthcare providers: Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) Tivanond Road, Nonthaburi 11000, Thailand (if you are complaining about a public healthcare service); you can also register your grievance on the Royal Thai Government’s 24-hour complaints line
  • For private healthcare providers: Foundation for Consumers: 4/2 Soi Watthanayothin, Thanon Phaya Thai, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400, Thailand (if you are complaining about a private provider)

Another option is to take legal action through the Thai courts. However, this can be a long and expensive process, so it is best to seek advice from an experienced legal professional first.

Useful Thai medical phrases

  • Help! – ช่วยด้วย, chuay duay
  • Emergency – ภาวะฉุกเฉิน, pawa chuk chuen
  • Ambulance – รถพยาบาล, rot payabaan
  • Hospital – โรงพยาบาล, rong-pá-yaa-baan
  • Doctor – แพทย์, paet
  • It hurts here – เจ็บตรงนี้, jèp dtrong nee

You can find more useful Thai medical phrases on the Ling app.

Useful resources