Sun, sea, sand, surgery: Top medical tourism destinations in Asia
MEDICAL TOURISM, where patients travel overseas for operations, has been growing rapidly in Asia.
So much so that a handful of Asian countries are competing to tap into the market.
Tourists are willing to travel to another city, region or state to receive healthcare due to various reasons, the most important being affordability and better access to quality of care.
As more medical facilities around the world are offering its services to foreigners, international healthcare accreditation organizations are in the process of certifying a level of quality for healthcare providers and programs across multiple countries.
In Asia, especially, healthcare is becoming a burgeoning industry, with medical tourists converging on the region from their homes across Europe and America.
Why? Simply because the cost of healthcare in developed countries can be a little cutthroat. And most of Asia has excellent recovery amenities and facilities such as islands, beaches, bustling cities, food, shopping, entertainment, and more.
According to global insurance company Clements Worldwide, the most common procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include cosmetic surgery, dentistry (general, restorative, cosmetic), and heart surgery, as well as orthopedics (joint and spine; sports medicine); cancer (often high-acuity or last resort); reproductive (fertility, IVF, women’s health); and weight loss (LAP-BAND, gastric bypass).
Medical tourists would also often make the trip overseas for scans, tests, health screenings and second opinions.
Where does Asia stand in this medical tourism boom and what affordable healthcare services do Asian countries provide, you ask?
Here are the top medical tourism destinations in the region:
A decade ago, Singapore was said to be leading Southeast Asia’s medical tourism market.
However, the island-city state has become the most expensive city in the world, according to The Economist, a place where the cost of living is 30 percent higher than Manhattan. And it’s now considered a “high-end destination” for medical tourists.
This has opened up a world of opportunities for its neighbor, Malaysia.
Malaysia’s quality of care is rising but costs are falling, which appeals to medical tourists. In fact, the number of medical tourists in Malaysia has more than doubled since 2010, bringing in a revenue of RM777 million (US$102 million) in 2014 and RM900 million (US$233 million) in 2015.
The tropical country also provides alternative clinics designed for international visitors, with qualified healthcare professionals trained in acupuncture, herbology, and other forms of traditional Chinese and Southeast Asian medicine.
Healthcare professionals are also knowledgeable in Muslim customs, making Malaysia the go-to country for medical tourists who are concerned about the halal-ness of their healthcare experience.
Thailand is also one of the most popular medical tourism destinations by most estimates.
In 2006, medical tourism raked in 1.2 million arrivals, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported, citing data from the kingdom’s Commerce Ministry.
It helps in leaps and bounds to assure potential medical tourists that the Thai government is working hard at getting accreditation for the country’s hospitals.
The country also has a strong price point, as the cost of a hip replacement surgery in Bangkok is about half that in the US.
Those who are concerned about safety and professionalism can choose from 33 clinics and hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International, a global group that approves health care centers by ensuring that they meet quality benchmarks and patient satisfaction.
Thailand’s success in promoting medical tourism has contributed hundreds of billions of baht to the country every year because medical tourists not only spend on their medical needs but also on traditional tourist activities such as accommodation, food, drinks, and shopping.
India is among the fastest growing medical tourism destinations in Asia, as Thailand and India account for 90 percent of the region’s medical tourism industry.
As it stands, the country is home to renowned medical universities and research centers that produce world-class physicians and surgeons.
It’s also the top choice for foreign students to pursue their medical studies.
The positive effect of that is India now has a huge database of internal homegrown talent that they can use, which keeps cost low. So low that surgery in India can be up to US$2,000 cheaper than it is in Thailand. This has catapulted India to becoming a leader in medical tourism around the globe.
Majority of medical tourists head to cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi for popular treatments such as fertility, orthopedic, cardiac and oncology problems, and organ transplants.
There are also medical tourism agencies that assist patients in every step of their journey: arrange itineraries, visas, local transportation and sightseeing options for the traveler’s accompanying family members.
According to The Economic Times, medical tourism in India is expected to become a US$9 billion industry by 2020.
It goes without saying that South Korea is synonymous with plastic surgery and the country is proud of it, as it actively promotes itself as the destination for aesthetic procedures.
However, that is just at a glance.
The East Asian country is also home to hospitals and clinics that provide high-acuity specialties and procedures, such as for spinal conditions and cancer. Its medical institutions are also big on preventive care, promoting comprehensive screenings that include dental, audio, vision, MRIs, and blood and heart work.
South Korea also prides itself on being a leader in technological advancements, and this is evident in its hospitals, where everything is fully digitalized and health records computerized.
Unlike the other medical tourism destinations in Asia, which are mostly hot and humid, South Korea’s cooling climate offers comfort to recovering medical tourists, who can step out for a stroll with comfort and ease.
According to PR Newswire, South Korea medical tourism industry is likely to reach nearly US$2 billion by end-2022.
A new player in the industry, Indonesia is set to develop international medical tourism in the coming years.
Currently famous for its beautiful islands, pristine beaches, and spa treatments, the country has relaxed the laws on medical tourism by removing it from the Negative Investment List.
Indonesia wants a share of the medical tourism pie that its neighbors Malaysia and Thailand are getting.
According to RETalk Asia, the latest calculation of Indonesians undergoing medical treatment overseas is estimated at 600,000, spending US$1.4 billion dollars. Indonesia has realized that this lucrative market could put money back into its own economy.
It has a big potential considering the location, the current tourism numbers, and the likelihood of the affordability.
“The development of medical tourism in Indonesia has a big potential considering the location and Indonesia’s advantages for medical tourism,” Tourism Ministry Secretary Ukus Kuswara said.
In September 2017, Indonesia’s tourism and health ministries signed a MoU, teaming up to fulfill a promising role in medical tourism. The next step for both ministries is to form a joined taskforce with hospital, spa and other health association representatives.
Watch this space.