Malaysia can be medical tourism hub


Malaysia has the potential to become a medical tourism hub, says Frost & Sullivan’s Dr Pawel Suwinski:
“The recent promotion of medical tourism by the government and the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia is excellent. Health tourism is one of the brightest points in the growth of the healthcare sector in Malaysia.”

The latest figures on medical tourism in Malaysia support Suwinski’s claim. The compounded annual growth rate of foreign tourists to Malaysia seeking medical care is 25.3% from 1998 to 2008.Revenue per patient grew from US$92 in 1998 to US$241 in 2008. While most foreign patients came from neighbouring countries with less developed medical infrastructure such as Indonesia, there is a growing market in developed countries.

Simranjit Singh,also of Frost & Sullivan says” Cost and relative political stability lends Malaysia a distinct comparative advantage in the field of medical tourism. There is no denying that Malaysia has an edge over Singapore and even Thailand in this respect. The recession had led to rising healthcare costs in the West, making the Asian region a cheaper alternative for medical treatment.”

According to a survey carried out by Frost & Sullivan, potential medical tourists are concerned primarily with accredited doctors and nurses, accessibility to hospitals and leisure at their place of stay. Malaysia fared well in all three areas. The report adds that healthcare expenditure in Malaysia is increasingly driven by increased privatisation within the healthcare service provision and upgrading of existing healthcare infrastructure within the public sector. The market for healthcare services has also received positive impetus from growing promotion of health tourism and development activities.

The Malaysian healthcare system is dominated by private hospitals accounting for an average of 62 percent of total number of hospitals annually from 2002-2008.As at the end of 2008; there were 144 public hospitals and 224 private hospitals in Malaysia.The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is being set up within the Health Ministry to promote and develop the country's health tourism industry. It will report to an advisory committee chaired by the health minister. Members of this council are representatives from the government and the private sector involved in health tourism.

The Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) argues that there should be a very clear separation between the public and private sectors when it comes to healthcare because the government is responsible for regulating the private healthcare sector and carrying out enforcement duties.CAP says, “There is bound to be a major conflict of interest. How can the ministry regulate and enforce laws when it is, at the same time, involved in promotional activities for this very same industry? There will be the tendency to favour the industry. Seeing the way the top people in the ministry are going all out to publicly support health tourism, it appears that the ministry is letting the public know that its priority is turning more towards business. Government hospitals are still critically understaffed. Key specialists are serving instead in the private sector. Faced with long waiting times, patients sometimes resort to seeking treatment at private healthcare facilities. This is often in spite of the charges at these facilities being something they can ill afford. As patient load and services at private healthcare facilities increase due to aggressive promotion of services, charges for treatment go up. CAP calls on the ministry to halt this alarming trend towards being totally involved in encouraging health tourism. The ministry should remain independent and play its role to regulate the private healthcare sector. There should not be a travel agency housed in the Health Ministry.”



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