Malaysia needs to do more

 

Although Malaysia is an Islamic country, tourists from the Middle East make Thailand and Singapore their choice of destination over Malaysia when it comes to getting medical treatment, said a top Malaysian official.

Making this statement, Secretary General of the National Chambers of Commerce and Industry Malaysia (NCCIM), Datuk Syed Hussien Al-Habshee said the lack of effective marketing strategy was the reason for Malaysia being left behind the two countries in medical tourism.

“Although we have the clear edge in terms of religion, Muslim hospital staff, halal food and other aspects, Middle East tourists prefer to go to Thailand and Singapore. Due to this, the country continues to be left far behind the two neighbouring countries in the sector which is growing annually.’ He says that in 2008 6,000 medical tourists from the Middle East went to Thailand for various forms of treatment in the country's hospitals.

Syed Hussien argues that there is an urgent need for more integrated strategies from government agencies. The three ministries involved, namely the Ministry of Health, Ministry of International Trade and Industry and Tourism Ministry should have a strategy to promote and market Malaysia as a premier medical tourism destination, rather than leaving it all to the private hospital sector, he said.

A recent study by the National University of Singapore shows that the process of transforming Malaysian healthcare into a global commodity is well under way. This is underpinned by the Government’s effort in institutionalising various incentives such as tax support, accreditation, sales promotion and marketing activities to promote the country as a healthcare hub. The report echoes Syed Hussein as it says that the initiatives are fragmented and that the private healthcare sector has been tasked to be the driver of medical tourism in Malaysia.

Among the factors working to Malaysia’s advantage, are its cost-competitiveness compared to the regional and international markets, the good infrastructure, and the fact that English is widely spoken. It has highly-trained and skilled medical personnel, state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, modern facilities, accreditation based on international healthcare standards, competitive cost of treatment, and excellent hospitality.

Malaysian hospitals are known for their resources and expertise in cardiology, orthopedics, cancer treatment, fertility treatment, and reconstructive surgery. What it is poor at is integrated marketing, promotion and advertising. The private sector has 230 private hospitals and 4000 medical and dental clinics. 35 private hospitals have been recognised by the Malaysian Ministry of Health for the promotion of health tourism.

As a step to promoting itself in the Middle East, The Ministry of Health and the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) recently took ten leading providers of medical care, wellness, health tourism and healthcare technology to MSE 2009, a trade exhibition in Dubai, with a forum on 'Malaysia - Your preferred healthcare destination'.

After achieving JCI status, Prince Court Medical Centre (PCMC) in Kuala Lumpur wants to become a leading healthcare provider in Asia and promote medical tourism, says chief executive Stuart Rowley,  "We are targeting the Asian region, Middle East and there is a lot of existing demand coming from Australia and New Zealand for medical tourism."

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