Thailand’s plan to implement price controls on medical supplies and services: A shift towards better digital health adoption?

In December 2018, Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce announced plans to put medical-related fees, including drugs, supplies and service charges, on the price control list of the government’s central committee on prices of goods and services. On January 9 2019, the plan was approved and the Thai government added medicine, medical supplies and medical services to its price control lists, which was announced by Minister of Commerce Sontirat Sontijirawong.

A subcommittee has been formed to work out measures to control their prices, which consists of representatives from the ministries of commerce and public health, insurance associations, the Private Hospital Association, the Foundation for Consumers and the National Health Security Office, Minister Sontirat said.

Impact on digital health adoption

With the implementation of price controls on medical supplies and services, the impact would mostly likely be felt by the private hospitals and healthcare providers since their revenues and profits would be adversely affected. However, on a broader level, the price controls could result in a nationalised standardisation of healthcare terminologies and delivery in terms of how services are ordered.

Currently, most hospitals in Thailand, especially those in the private sector, have unique software programs that are designed specifically for their internal use and operate quite comfortably within each institution’s legacy IT systems. What this also means is that it is virtually impossible for electronic information-sharing across hospitals but the price controls may pave the way for a more standardised way of recording health information to facilitate reimbursement both for healthcare providers and payers/insurance providers.

A more standardised method of recording and sharing of health information at the national level using IT brings with it several benefits – patients can move across different healthcare organisations without having to bring along their physical paper medical records, reduction of diagnosis/prescription errors as clinicians have a more comprehensive medical record of their patients and potential opportunities for population health analytics with a unified national electronic health record.

While the move towards a unified national electronic healthcare record in Thailand may take some time and effort to realise, the new price controls presents a shake-up and enormous opportunities for both public and private healthcare providers to provide more value and quality to their patients through leveraging health IT technologies.

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