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Malaysia Updates Medical Tourism Efforts

Posted on Jul 12, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

This past week, Malaysia became the latest Southeast Asian country to announce plans to further develop its private hospital network in an attempt to better compete in the lucrative global medical tourism industry. Skyrocketing healthcare costs in developed Western countries coupled with the continued progress of the global economy has encouraged many people to now venture abroad to more cost effective destinations when seeking medical treatment, a practice known as medical tourism. These macroeconomic factors combined with the falling costs of travel and communication has enabled world class healthcare facilities to establish themselves all around the world. International clients seeking alternative healthcare solutions to what is available in their home countries are now presented with many opportunities at competitive prices. Popular locations for medical travel include countries in South East Asia and Latin America, where many surgery procedures, including transplants and cosmetic procedures, cost a fraction of the price they would do in North America or Western Europe and usually can offer shorter waiting times for treatment as well. The convenience and efficiency of pursuing international medical tourism options is something to be considered for patients seeking to fully evaluate their future health procedures. South Asia's medical tourism industry in particular has grown at a remarkable pace, with an estimated total value of US$100 billion projected annually by 2012. National governments and private enterprise in countries, such as India, Singapore, and Thailand have been quick to recognize this lucrative marketplace and have been investing heavily in their healthcare infrastructure to meet the global demand for quality-assured medical care together with highly trained medical specialists and the latest advancements in medical technology. Countries such as Taiwan and South Korea are not far behind and have also taken measures recently to improve their performance in the international private healthcare market. The medical tourism industry in Malaysia has progressed admirably in recent years from 75,000 foreign patients in 2001 to 297,000 in 2006, and the country now hopes to establish itself among the elite players in the region. Demand for high quality healthcare is rebounding following the global economic crisis and last year Malaysia claimed to have attracted 392,956 healthcare tourists to their facilities. In comparison to some of its Asia Pacific neighbors however, the country has a long way to go in the medical tourism field. Thailand, Singapore and India, for example, capture around 90 percent of the market and last year managed to attract 1.5 million, 720,000 and 730,000 foreign patients respectively. India's medical tourism facilities in particular have become such a significant player that US President Barack Obama singled them out as a threat to his planned healthcare reform law. Malaysia's Ministry of Health has recognized the need for improvement and recently added seven hospitals and eight more ambulatory-care facilities to its existing private healthcare facility network. The country now features over 35 different private healthcare facilities accredited to handle foreign patients, including Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur, International Specialist Eye Centre and Penang Adventist Hospital. To become accredited, the Malaysian government has a lengthy set of clinical health indices a private facility must pass. The process takes up to two years for new hospitals and expenses incurred while receiving accreditation are compensated. The Ministry of Health wants all unaccredited private hospitals to become certified by the end of 2011. Malaysian Health Minister Seri Liow Tong Lai has always made patient safety the chief priority of the Malaysian healthcare system in guiding many of its quality improvement activities in recent years. Malaysia has been a strong advocate of the World Health Organization's World Alliance for Patient Safety and was one of the earliest signatories when the decree passed in May 2006. The health minister explained that it was the government's wish to see all specialist hospitals fully equipped with proper facilities and personnel and that the updated criteria for selecting private hospitals "will ensure that Malaysia can offer a range of services at affordable prices. These include healthcare screening; complex treatments such as cardiothoracic, hand and microsurgery; and post-treatment such as physiotherapy." The minister added that competition in the region for affluent health tourists was only going to grow, "Singapore, Thailand and India have captured a large portion of the healthcare travel industry in this region. Countries like Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines are also looking at venturing into this industry in a big way," he said. Within the next five years the Health Ministry also plans to increase the number of cardiothoracic, urology and neurosurgeons serving in the general hospitals throughout the country. This will be done through increasing the number sponsored places for university places as well as through importation of foreign surgeons on a contract basis. To spearhead the promotion and development efforts of the medical tourism industry the Malay government launched the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) in 2009. The MHTC is tasked with facilitating greater public-private collaboration and formulating international promotion strategies for the 35 internationally accredited medical tourism hospitals currently licensed in the country. While the medical tourism industry will remain driven by the robust private medical sector, the MHTC will serve as the focal point for overseas clients and use its position to hopefully raise Malaysia's medical tourism profile internationally as a country that provides high-quality, safe and affordable care for all comers. Through this new united national body, the government hopes to further encourage the private healthcare sector to invest more in attracting overseas clients, and plans to support them further by resolving policy and administrative impediments affecting healthcare travel, such as fast-track immigration clearance, visa applications and more. According to a new research report from RNCOS, the Malaysian medical tourism industry's revenue is projected to grow 16 percent annually between 2011 and 2014. The increased number of medical travelers has opened up many new opportunities for additional medical and tourist operations in the country as well. So far Malaysia has proved willing to meet this demand with pronounced investment, remarkable human resources and further market liberalization. Additional attempts to assure would-be clients of the high quality and safety standards of the nation's private medical facilities will only help their profile in the lucrative global medical tourism industry.
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