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Philippines Set to Challenge in the Medical Tourism Industry

Posted on Oct 22, 2010 by Sergio Ulloa ()

In 2004, the government of the Philippines introduced a medical tourism initiative - the Philippine Medical Tourism Program (PMTP) - to promote the country's private healthcare services to the worldwide market. At that time, the likes of Thailand, Malaysia, India and Singapore had already established themselves as Asian medical tourism destinations. Since then the medical tourism industry in the Philippines has recorded an average of nearly 200,000 international patients coming to the country each year for medical treatments, generating US$ 350 million per annum. The Philippines has an edge over some rival Asian medical tourism providers, resulting from its established reputation for providing highly qualified medical professionals, with many Filipino doctors and nurses trained and working overseas in countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In conjunction with its reputation for quality medical professionals, the Philippines has a natural beauty, creating an environment for a vibrant tourism industry and an attractive location for international visitors. While the Philippines medical tourism sector has sound basic conditions for developing its business, it is facing increasing international competition from regional rivals and from Latin American and Middle Eastern countries. Additionally, with tough underlying economic conditions to be overcome and issues with the standard of infrastructure available, the medical tourism industry in the Philippines faces serious challenges. An Asian Medical Tourism Analysis (2008-2012) highlighted the improvements in the medical tourism industry in recent years, with Thailand, India and Singapore being the front runners in the provision of medical treatments to international patients. The report identified the emerging prospects for medical tourism in the Philippines, Malaysia and South Korea. In order to capitalize on these opportunities, the Philippines has been strengthening its domestic healthcare infrastructure and wellness sector in order to be competitive and attractive to foreign visitors. The future for the medical tourism industry in the Philippines is expected to remain robust in the coming years, although it faces stiff competition from the healthcare services provided in established countries in Asia such as Thailand and emerging countries such as South Korea and Dubai. The Asian medical tourism industry envisages continued growth, partly reflecting its escape from many of the negative effects from the recent global financial crises. Even though medical tourism in the Philippines is facing a challenging time, mostly due to competition from rival regional providers, the Philippines is taking positive steps to maintain a slice of the lucrative medical tourism market. Competition in the medical tourism industry is not confined to Asian countries. Serious competition is now emerging from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is also making efforts to establish itself as a medical tourism destination. The UAE has invested heavily in marketing and creating a medical tourism industry to compete with the Asian private healthcare sector, but struggles to match prices available for healthcare and medical treatments in Asian countries. Companies such as the Philippine Medical Tourism Inc (PMTI) work with the Department of Health (DOH) in the Philippines to ensure the provision of healthcare services in the Philippines for foreign visitors meet government standards. PMTI uses its local expertise and knowledge to offer comprehensive medical packages for international patients in association with hospitals, clinics, hotels and resorts in the country. Medical procedures such as hip replacements carried out in the Philippines can be arranged for a price starting at US$ 11,000 including accommodation and transport, while the same procedure in the USA would cost a patient around US$43,000. Companies such as PMTI have increased the competitive edge of the medical tourism industry in the Philippine by providing a value-added service. It is predicted that the Medical Tourism Industry will be worth US$100 billion yearly internationally by 2012 and the medical tourism sector in the Philippines is well placed to secure a reasonable slice of this substantial and lucrative market. Compared to Asian rivals, the Philippines entered the medical tourism industry relatively late, not until 2004. Now, the medical tourism industry in the Philippines is striving to become a US$1 billion per year industry by 2012. This is being driven by the Government of the Philippines and Philippine healthcare providers adopting large scale marketing campaigns, promoting the country's quality and affordable healthcare services to patients in countries with high cost and a backlog in medical treatments. The Philippines is able to offer comparative low cost medical treatment and health services to the likes of American and British patients in particular. The healthcare system in the Philippines has taken significant steps to modernize healthcare facilities in order to optimize these opportunities, with the Philippine government taking a leading role in spear-heading the promotion of this sector of their healthcare system. In order to be competitive, the Philippines government and private health sector took action to implement projects and schemes to challenge the regional leaders in the provision of medical tourism services. The medical tourism industry in the Philippines was able to hit their planned target of 700,000 medical travelers in 2008. This has lead to the HEAL Philippines (Health and Wellness Alliance of the Philippines) organization working with the government and the private sector to drive up medical tourist numbers visiting the country. HEAL Philippines' primary goal is to develop and promote the Philippines as a global healthcare and retirement destination in a competitive region of the world. Part of the HEAL Philippines networks' role is the accreditation of hospitals, clinics, spas and other health facilities used in providing a range of treatments and procedures for medical tourists in the Philippines. Currently there are 44 accredited Philippine hospitals and designated clinics across the Philippines - mostly in the capital Manila. Medical packages like the 'Smile Holidays' for medical tourists seeking dental treatment have been popular, and the Philippines is able to provide certain cosmetic surgery from as little as $2000. However, at the moment, the Philippines' medical tourism industry is finding it difficult to compete with Thailand and India for complex surgical treatments. The prime focus currently is aimed at the medical tourists from the Middle East and the Pacific region, with secondary markets being Europe, Japan, Australia and Taiwan. Overcoming language barriers in the Philippine healthcare system is being addressed to fully exploit the medical tourist market. In conjunction with the Philippines medical tourism industry, the access for public healthcare for Filipino citizens is set to improve by 2013, with the government of the Philippines drawing up plans in 2010 to introduce universal healthcare coverage for the indigent population of the country. The Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Manila is one of the healthcare providers in the Philippines specifically catering to the medical tourism industry. It provides a special international health service for foreign patients, dedicated to providing comprehensive care for a visitor with a focus on reassurance to a patient when receiving medical treatment during their time in the hospital. The Asian Hospital and Medical Center is affiliated and owned by the Bangkok based Bumrungrad International Hospital, which is one of Asia's most recognized private health providers. The St. Luke's Medical Centre is located on the island of Luzon in Quezon City and is a Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospital. The St. Luke's Medical Centre offers a wide range of medical services covering cardiovascular medicine, ophthalmology, cancer, neurology and neurosurgery, and treatments for liver and digestive diseases. The hospital receives international patients from the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It has an international patient care center providing extra services for the medical tourist such as travel planning and airport pickup. The Philippines has set the foundations to become a major player in the medical tourism market reflecting the government's commitment to work with private health providers in the Philippines to provide a challenge to other suppliers in an industry which is expected to expand significantly; especially with major healthcare reforms being applied by western countries; an industry report has indicated that the Asian medical tourism business will grow by 16 percent between 2010 and 2012. The medical tourism industry in the Philippines is still in the early stage of development, compared with its Asian counter-parts, and faces strong competition in an industry which has rapidly expanded. The rewards for being successful are enormous, with the medical tourist sector currently estimated to be worth roughly US$55 billion per year and is set to rise to US$ 100 billion in the medium-term future.
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