Philippines government studies niche opportunities in medical tourism


The Philippines government is studying opportunities in niche services that will allow the Philippines to grow medical tourism. Dental, cancer care and retirement services are among the sectors with high demand, says tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez, “The Philippines must be careful in choosing which sectors to focus on. We should ensure that the best facilities are put in place in the chosen sectors and that the best people are running them. Medical tourism is an area where one develops a reputation quickly. It is something we cannot get wrong. We have to get it right the first time.”

Over the last seven years, the country has had a plethora of medical tourism campaigns and promotional bodies. The campaigns mostly failed, and the promotional bodies got bogged down in internal disagreement, endless discussion within massive committees, and sidetracks concentrating on accreditation. Although a few medical tourists were attracted, the majority are still people who lived or have family in the country. The marketing campaigns were very general and of the basic and now outdated 'Come to us as we are cheap, good doctors, friendly people, nice beaches’ type.

While medical tourism in the Philippines has not taken off either as much or as quickly as the healthcare industry has hoped, there is still a lot of optimism. The Philippine healthcare sector’s biggest players continue to invest in technology, equipment, and buildings, believing in the country’s potential as a medical tourism destination.

While the Philippines’ growth as a medical tourism destination has been slow, it remains steady, consistent, and encouraging for investors as there is a pent-up demand for local healthcare too.

The upgraded The Medical City and Makati Medical Center have both recently established advanced stem cell facilities in the Philippines: The Medical City’s Institute for Personalized Molecular Medicine (IPMM) and the Makati Medical Center’s Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory.  These stem cell facilities process the stem cells used in their aesthetic and anti-aging treatments. Makati Medical Center also offers a range of treatment, and now has the first TomoTherapy radiation treatment in the country.

One area that the country has expertise in is cosmetic surgery, but it seems unable or unwilling to promote this niche. As well as specialist clinics, three major hospitals, Makati Medical Center; The Medical City; and St. Luke’s Medical Center are all offering a range of cosmetic treatments. There are also specialist clinics including Medicard Lifestyle Center and the Belo Medical Group - with a network of clinics around the country.

Back in 1993, Dr. Vicki Belo’s Dermatology and Laser Clinic was already catering to foreign patients, particularly to Filipino-American communities. She produced a TV show 'Belo Beauty 101' featuring various procedures. It continues to air on The Filipino Channel (TFC) and is shown in the U.S., Europe, Japan, the Middle East, and Australia. Despite high levels of promotion to the US, Asia and the Middle East, the numbers of medical tourists to Belo has fallen from a high of 30% of all patients, to 20% in 2012.

According to Dr. Belo, the government, along with Filipino medical and healthcare facilities, need to enhance the country’s image and increase accessibility for foreigners as many foreigners still have mistaken notions about the security situation in the Philippines and about how to get there.

If the country concentrates on the niches of cosmetic surgery and dentistry it competes head to head with many countries in America. If it promotes cancer and stem cell tourism, this can backfire as it uses procedures not accepted in the USA. Is retirement tourism even a part of medical tourism, or a separate beast entirely? How to get beyond medical tourism for Filipino communities overseas is a puzzle that nobody yet has the answer to.



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