Can Indonesia develop medical tourism at home?

 

Up to a million Indonesians seek medical treatment overseas each year. Patients prefer overseas health care, as they do not trust domestic medical services related to the treatment of certain diseases, or believe that such services are either not available or too expensive.

The government considers that the development of medical tourism in Indonesia is not only feasible, but could also be highly lucrative given the steady increase, pre pandemic, in the number of international medical tourists.

Indonesia’s neighbours Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, have developed medical tourism in their countries, and the sector could also serve as a catalyst for job creation and a more diversified economy in the country.

Before anything can begin however, the government recognises that it needs to attract or build international quality hospitals. This would need the co-operation of Indonesian states, national organisations, and the Indonesian Doctors Association.

The plan to develop medical tourism in the country has been years in the making, but little was done until the borders closed this year. In 2017, the Tourism Ministry and the Health Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding on the development of medical and health tourism, but that was it.

According to the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute, Indonesians spent US$11.5 billion annually on health care abroad, mostly in Malaysia. Between 600,000 and a million Indonesians sought medical treatment overseas.

Pre-pandemic, more Indonesians were staying in Indonesia for specialty health services such as IVF treatment and heart, minimal invasive and robotic surgery. The growth of private healthcare in Indonesia could make inbound medical tourism possible, which would threaten Malaysia’s major source of business.

Most hospital expansion will come from private players and private public partnerships while government focuses on expanding access in rural areas and in primary care. The demand for hospital beds, especially outside the greater Jakarta area, cannot be addressed by public hospitals alone so private hospitals will expand beyond the key cities to capture new and growing catchment areas.

There are 73 major private hospitals in Indonesia. Of these 42 are in Greater Jakarta. Greater Jakarta is still the most attractive destination; the highest potential growth is seen in Tier 2 cities Makassar, Pekanbaru and Balikpapan.

Increasingly friendly foreign investment policies and the opportunity in healthcare will attract non-conventional players. Specialist hospital services are now open for 70% ASEAN ownership, offering the hospital business market the potential for partnerships with groups in ASEAN countries. And healthcare groups plan to build many new hospitals in the next few years.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism has implemented technical guidelines and strict health protocols at tourism destinations to ensure the safety of travellers. To regain tourist confidence, the ministry has produced a video on the implementation of guidelines and health protocols.

The ministries of tourism and health have also launched InDOnesia CARE , a national campaign to implement health protocols as well as verification to present clean, healthy, safe, and environmentally sustainable destinations. It aims to show that Indonesia is concerned about the common good to maintain cleanliness, hygiene, and services by involving entrepreneurs, consumers, and communities.

National guidelines published refer to global standards as operational technical guidelines for businesses in the tourism sector based on three main issues: cleanliness, health, and safety.

There are protocols for hotels, inns, homestays, hostels, and other accommodations, restaurants, smaller food joints and food services, tourist locations, modes of transportation, creative economy services, event/meeting organisation services, public places and facilities. The health protocols are expected to support the plan for gradually reactivating the tourism sector.

The government is currently focusing on attracting domestic travellers rather than foreign tourists. It believes that in future, there will no longer be mass tourism, but quality and niche tourism, which is where medical tourism could slot in, if the medical facilities are ready.

Indonesia will continue not to open its doors to foreign tourists until a new coronavirus vaccine is found and immunity can be provided, claimed Indonesia's national economic and COVID-19 recovery team, admitting that immunity will probably not be ready until 2021. But Indonesia has reached agreements with South Korea and the United Arab Emirates for travel bubbles.

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