Manila shows off it's expertise in international medical travel

 

Tourism secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano and tourism director for the office of product research and development Elizabeth Nelle, both of whom have been indefatigable in bringing together various industry sectors and convincing them this is the way forward, were present at the opening ceremonies on November 22. Makati City mayor Jejomar Binay, who recently identified medical travel as an initiative to promote, also sent a representative. IMTC 2007 was staged in Makati, the country’s premier financial hub. Durano and Binay (through his emissary) both extolled their country’s assets, its natural attractions, health facilities and friendly people, and wished everyone a productive stay.

Representatives from Manila’s leading hospitals including Asian Hospital, Capitol Medical, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, St Francis Medical Center, St Luke’s and World Citi Medical Center were present, along with Jordan’s Abdulhadi Eye Hospital, South Korea’s Inha University Hospital, Jaeseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine and Wooridul Spine Hospital and Singapore’s Parkway Hospitals and Singapore Tourism Board among others.

Over 50 local and international buyers were registered such as The Medical Tourist UK, Arab Orient Insurance, All About Beauty Australia, Restored Beauty Australia, Careflight Australia, Globe Health Tours UK, William Russell International UK and Crispin Spears & Partners.

Exhibitor Rania Al-Masri, executive manager of the five-year-old Abdulhadi Eye Hospital in Amman, came to the conference with Dr Ratib Al-Hinnawi of the Health Ministry of Jordan and Dr Fawzi Y Al-Hammouri, chairman of the Private Hospitals Association, curious as to how Asia was building up a reputation as a healthcare hub. She was also interested to ascertain if there could be a potential demand for Abdulhadi’s services. “We are one of two centres in Jordan that’s dedicated to eye procedures,” said Al-Masri. “We have agreements with almost all the governments in the Middle East and various embassies.”

Al-Masri reported that between 12 and 15 LASIK surgeries are performed daily in Abdulhadi’s two theatres. Corneal transplants are also a specialty of the hospital. “Since travel time between Jordan and many of its neighbours is only two or three hours, patients come in quickly, have it done and then leave the country.”

While Jordan could prove to be a tough sell to Asian countries due to the distance, Al-Masri said she wasn’t discouraged and was considering promoting travel to Malaysia, where Muslim patients might be more predisposed to visit because of religious considerations. During the conference, Dr Al-Hammouri of the Jordanian Private Hospitals Organisation outlined in detail why the Hashemite Kingdom was gaining a name as a medical travel hub in the Middle East, especially attracting large numbers from Iraq.

To facilitate networking, a Contact Xchange session was held each morning for 30 minutes throughout the two-day event. Buyers were stationed at four counters around the ballroom, while exhibitors were rotated, allowing ample opportunity to exchange business cards and discover shared interests. Talking shop carried over into the various coffee breaks, lunches and the gala dinner, hosted by the Philippine Department of Tourism, on the first day.

While most of the presentations reflected lengthy and painstaking research by the speakers on subjects such as “Establishing an Integrated & Regional healthcare Deliver Networks” (Anil K Maini of Apollo Hospitals Group), “Safety in every sphere – understanding safety issues for travelling patients” (Dr Eric A Guite of Global Assistance and Healthcare) and “Riding the challenges in the medical travel opportunity” (Vishal Bali of Wockhardt Hospitals India), the Cross-Industry Panels provided a welcome breather from the welter of information.

To a query from the audience about whether a developing country should engage in medical tourism, Dr Jason Yap, director (Healthcare Services) of the Singapore Tourism Board, was the model of diplomacy, saying: “Every government has to decide its own medical policy. I cannot comment on the policy of another government, but in Singapore, we have always put serving the needs of our own people first. For us, the real industry is healthcare; tourism is second.”

In the same session, an Australian medical-travel operator said that while the healthcare system Down Under has recently been experiencing some cases of inferior service quality, Australians have still to be convinced that “the overseas option is something better than they would get at home, and price isn’t the only factor in this decision making”.

The Philippines, he said, has been his choice destination to send clients for dental treatment these past four years. “There may have been complaints about Manila or some of the tour operators, but not one word of bad service, and the shopping here is so good I often warn people to come with an empty suitcase. So if you want to sell your services, you, yourself, have to be convinced that you are the best and make sure people know it.”

Vinchu M Lapid, managing director of Beautiphil Health Holidays, who chaired the panel on “Managing the medical travel experience”, observed that while there were many different services offered to the medical traveller, from insurance schemes to medical programmes, from travel arrangements to hotel accommodation, from evacuation to supplying special medical travel paraphernalia, one component was still lacking. She said: “Not one of them has to do with accompanying the patient throughout the whole process.

“What is needed is a Medical Tourism Personal Assistant (MTPA), who should act in behalf of the patient at all time and should have no other interest. She would take the place of the patient’s relative or friend in a strange land, providing a feeling of safety and security and seeing to it that the experience is a seamless and problem-free one.”

After Manila, IMTC 2008 will be held in the last quarter of the year, the host country is yet to be decided.

FURTHER CONTENT PUBLISHED BY THIS AUTHOR

India powers ahead

Articles, 01 October, 2008

India's is becoming a major hub of medical travel

The accommodation issue

Articles, 01 July, 2008

Facilities and accommodation providers have a tentative relationship with the industry

The value of medical travel

Articles, 01 July, 2008

The industry discusses the best way to describe itself

Caring and curing

Articles, 01 May, 2008

The Philippines hopes to build on it's reputation with service quality

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