Singapore medical tourism is recovering


Singapore is again seeing more medical tourists. Figures for 2011 show an increase in medical tourists, while reports from hospitals suggest 2012 and 2013 will be even better.

Two key reasons for the increase are that the city state is promoting quality and service rather than price, and that it sees the growth market as Asia and Eastern Europe, rather than Western Europe or the USA.

Private hospitals have seen substantial growth in the number of foreign patients in Singapore in the last year, driven mainly by Singapore's expertise in high-end specialist care and surgery.

Parkway Pantai is drawing patients from Eastern Europe and North Asia. Raffles Medical Group has seen a 26% increase in 2012 in the number of foreign patients, with Indonesians making up the majority.

Patients from neighbouring Asian countries now make up the top five nationalities of medical tourists in Singapore as local demand exceeds supply in their home countries.

According to Singapore’s Ministry of Health and the Singapore Tourism Board, in 2011 Indonesians accounted for 47.2%, with Malaysians second at 11.5%, followed by Bangladeshis (5%), Vietnamese (4.1%) and Myanmar (2.7%).

The majority of medical tourists are treated at private hospitals, and the key reason is surgery. As prices have risen in Singapore, it has lost US and Western European business to cheaper countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and India.

The government set out to attract 1 million medical tourists, and Singapore Tourism Board claims 850,000 foreign patients and annual growth of 15% for 2012.The 2012 figures are not medical tourism numbers as they are for international patients that include holiday and business travellers and expats. An official 2008 figure of ‘medical tourists’ was also actually international patients and significantly had been massaged by using an unusual definition of ‘patient; the 2008 figure was 646,000 medical travellers, but the Singapore Tourism Board acknowledges that the 646,000 includes 370,000 people who had medical treatment; the other 230,000 were family members of the patients who accompanied them and had no treatment.

Singapore admits that 2010 saw a dramatic decline in numbers, although the figures for 2010 have disappeared. Using the same logic as for 2008, the 2012 figures have to be cut by just under 40% to take out family members – reducing it to 520,000. 40% of Singapore’s population consists of foreign nationals, while the figure also includes business travellers and holidaymakers, where Singapore is a very popular definition for both. How many of the ‘international ‘ patients are true medical tourists is a question, and various bank studies suggest that in places with a high expatriate population that are also popular tourism destinations, as many as two out of three are not medical tourists; so this could take the figure down to 170,000. The authorities accept that business only really started to pick up in late 2011 and has risen in 2012. It seems likely that the real number of medical tourists for 2012 is nearer to 200,000 rather than 850,000.



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