Malaysia: medical advertising guidelines to go?

 

The Malaysian Health Ministry could be set to call for a review of the Medical Advertising Guidelines, if opponents of the current restrictions get their way. There is a growing concern from hospitals and agencies that the current restrictions have a very negative effect on the growth of Malaysia’s medical tourism market.

If the ministry decides to review the guidelines, which were drafted to protect the importance of healthcare and medical services, it will call on all relevant stakeholders within the industry to be involved. The guidelines were last reviewed in December 2007 and only allow Malaysian doctors and hospitals to put up identity card sized pictures, qualifications, job titles, telephone numbers and places of practice. It disallows the use of superlatives for any healthcare centre, contrary to counterparts abroad that can include a virtual tour of their facilities and testimonials from patients.

Advertising agencies, hospitals and medical practitioners need to submit the intended advertisement for approval by the Health Ministry’s Medicine Advertisements Board before ads are run. No changes are allowed after authorisation. Doctors who ignore the rules can be struck off.

Suresh Ponnudurai of medical tourism portal Tropical Flow is eager to see changes made to the guidelines, “ The aim was so that advertising on health would not be the same as advertising a new TV or just a normal product. The guidelines also serve to create a level playing field for Malaysian healthcare centres and doctors. There should be changes to enable healthy competition in the industry.”

The irony is that while one part of the Health Ministry is handicapping medical tourism, other parts of it are promoting it. Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai recently announced plans for a Medical Tourism Board to be set up in Penang. Hospitals in the state will contribute to support the board which will run campaigns abroad to attract medical tourists.

Liow says that in 2008, 370,000 foreigners came to seek medical treatment, contributing RM300 million in revenue for the medical tourism industry. He adds that Malaysia’s medical tourism registered an annual growth of 30%, "We want to promote the industry for economic reason as we see it has so much potential that should be properly tapped. We expect the industry to continue to grow as Malaysia has the competitive edge compared with the neighbouring countries in terms of price and services provided.”

The Health Ministry is preparing a master plan to intensify promotion of health tourism in the country. It will work with the Tourism Ministry and Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) to draw up a proper framework and guideline for the industry.

Tourism Malaysia will embark on a three-year plan to collect data and market profile on health tourism, as part of its strategy to make Malaysia a premier health and wellness destination. Tourism Malaysia's Zulkifly Said says the research is very important in order to identify potential markets that could be tapped. The organisation will also work on promotional activities such as familiarizaation trips and marketing support.

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