Singapore, 14 April 2010 - Malaysia is fast becoming the destination of choice for healthcare tourists behind established medical tourism locations Singapore and Thailand. Many local private hospitals now offer a variety of medical packages and special arrangements for foreign patients.
Increasingly, people are travelling outside their home countries for medical treatment, driven by factors such as more affordable costs, better specialization and quality of medical care, short waiting periods, and to tap advanced technologies.
Globally, medical tourism is a rising trend, and at an expected global revenue of RM244billion in 2010, Malaysia has a lot of growth potential to tap into the medical tourism market as well as target new markets.
The Malaysian medical tourism industry has been experiencing consistent growth at a rate of 15 percent throughout 2008 to 2009, despite the economic slowdown in that period. Frost & Sullivan's Principal Consultant of Healthcare, Asia Pacific, Dr. Pawel Suwinski, commented, "At this growth rate, Frost & Sullivan sees potential revenue garnered from this sector reaching RM390million in 2010, as compared to RM150million five years ago."
The number of medical tourists visiting the country for medical tourism has more than quadrupled since 2003 to hit approximately 425,500 in 2009, and Malaysia is expected to receive 519,000 medical tourists in 2010. The majority of the visitors are from neighboring countries such as Indonesia (69 percent), Singapore (12 percent) and Japan (4 percent) seeking more affordable medical treatment. "Whilst Indonesia still leads, the trend does show a slight increase from Singapore and the Middle East over the last couple of years," Suwinski elaborated.
Suwinski says that Malaysia targets the cost-conscious, middle-range group and is particularly renowned for cardiovascular and orthopedic procedures, although Malaysia has patients for a variety of treatments including dental, aesthetics, optometry, obstetrics, gynaecology and more. The fact that most patients are from Asian countries is favourable as the physical build is similar amongst this typology – making for less complications and ease of medical operation, care and administration. For the Asian patients, proximity makes for convenience of travel, whilst cultural and language barriers are not an issue.
"A hospital and country can typically attract international patients by market or by specialization. For instance, the JCI-accredited Prince Court Medical Centre has a higher number of Middle Eastern patients, whilst the Mahkota Medical Centre captures a majority share of the Indonesian patients," Suwinski explains.
Suwinski said that Singapore targets the higher-end market and is established for more complicated procedures – and in areas such as oncology and transplants. As these procedures are more expensive, Singapore may have less in terms of number of patients, but more in terms of revenue.
Given that both Singapore and Malaysia get their largest number of medical tourists from Indonesia, price competitiveness relative to Singapore will be a key factor to sway Indonesian patients to seek treatment in Malaysia instead of Singapore.
"Bumrungrad, Thailand's JCI-accredited, world-class hospital in Bangkok, is amongst the top four hospitals recognized globally for medical tourism and attracts about 450,000 international patients annually. On the whole, Thailand received 1.7 million medical tourists in 2009, with their largest numbers coming from China and Japan," Suwinski explains.
Malaysia's biggest advantage over Thailand is the language barrier issue, but with the political unrest in Thailand now, Malaysia has the potential to take some market share from Thailand.
The growing interest in Malaysia and potential for health to become wealth for the country has attracted the government's involvement in extending supplementary service infrastructure for this sector. The government has initiated several attractive incentives for investors and travelers and has begun working with several government agencies to promote the country and encourage growth within the medical tourism sector. The Ministry of Health (MOH) has set up a medical tourism website, and, to work in tandem with the Economic Planning Unit and the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM), a Healthcare Travel Council was proposed. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism has focused and increased efforts to understand and develop this sector.
The Malaysian government's move to address issues such as visa requirements and immigration hassles, and stepping up marketing and promotional activities to raise awareness of Malaysia as a tourist hub for leisure, travel and healthcare, are crucial factors in working toward making Malaysia a top choice destination in Asia. "Malaysia still has low exposure in countries with a potential customer base and needs to catch up with countries like Thailand and Singapore that have already established their advantage and global market share," states Suwinski.
"The government's role and working closely with the private sector is an essential factor to generate the full range of benefits," Suwinski says. If Malaysia intends to look toward Western and developed countries, then another factor would be JCI accreditation, as most hospitals in Singapore are already accredited, whilst most in Malaysia are working toward applying for accreditation now. JCI accreditation allows patients to pay for treatment under U.S. health insurance plans.
Moving forward, concerted efforts must be made to raise the expected quality of healthcare services in Malaysia. Creating an attractive option for travelers includes elevating the level of clinical and service excellence, and adopting superior technology and patient-oriented facilities. This would include everything from extending support and services to accompanying family members and adopting Healthcare IT (HIT) systems such as Electronic Health Records (EHR)," Suwinski added.
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