Since medical travel resumed after flights were grounded and hospitals were shuttered for nearly two years due to the pandemic, the industry has not remained the same. Many innovative changes are shifting the paradigm in medical tourism as countries begin to expand their markets to meet global pent-up healthcare demands.
In rebranding medical tourism destinations and increasing their attractiveness to the global market, government actors play an invaluable role. The key drivers of medical travel, including the quality of medical care infrastructure, wellness opportunities, and destination attractiveness largely depend on state-driven policies and measures, which could take the form of public-private collaborations. A few countries are leveraging the unique position of government stakeholders to expand their medical tourism offerings and increase their share of the global market.
In Korea, government players are stopping at nothing to re-inventing medical travel and opening its doors to more international patients. Led by the Korea Tourism Organization, the state organization responsible for promoting medical tourism in Korea, Korea has continued to roll out initiatives to attract international patients from anywhere in the world for various complex medical needs.
During the pandemic, South Korea was praised for its rapid control of the contagion with clear strategies that focused on disease surveillance and contact tracing in the absence of a full shutdown. The success in containing the crisis that had already begun to overwhelm other parts of the world beamed the light on South Korea’s healthcare systems.
Korea boasts of some of the most advanced technological products in the world, with this unique advantage driving advances in the country’s medical space. This continues to redefine care across several medical specialties, including oncology, orthopedic surgery, and cardiology, as tech advances have helped the country pioneer state-of-the-art and novel treatment and diagnostics.
Korea Tourism Organization is also establishing strong networks in the medical tourism industry to build a unique position in the market. With the strategic partnership with Global Healthcare Accrediation and the Medical Tourism Association, KTO opened Korea's rich medical tourism offerings to the world, ramping up inbound medical tourism from zero to nearly 500,000 foreign patients in 2019. The organization linked up with the Medical Tourism Association to expand its fronts in the United States and other countries and also to network with health buyers and payers to showcase the entirety of medical travel offerings in Korea by some of the most renowned medical care providers in the world, including Asan Medical Center, International Clinic, and Seoul National University Bundang Hospital.
In addition to partnering with the MTA, the KTO has also collaborated with the UAE to showcase its advanced medical offerings for international patients. Recently, the Dubai Office of the KTO hosted medical tourism key players in UAE, including SATA Travels, AITayer Travel, and Omeir Travel to showcase the country’s top-grade health facilities, advanced treatments, wellness resorts, and cutting-edge technology. The organization has also launched a four-in-one travel expo that will feature the country’s thriving tourism sectors, including its medical travel business, to stakeholders from around the world.
The government of Korea continues to strengthen its disease surveillance and infection control processes to make it one of the safest countries to travel to in light of the pandemic. As safety has become a crucial issue and driver of medical travel, countries that prioritize this metric through strong disease prevention strategies, as seen in Korea, will build trust and confidence among health payers and consumers, thus, experience a surge in inbound medical travel.
Through the KTO, healthcare providers in Korea are also leveraging third-party accreditation to ensure health providers comply with global best practices. Many renowned centers of excellence in Korea, including Asan Medical Center, have invested in accreditations and certifications by the Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) to improve its quality metrics and rebuild trust in healthcare.
The government of Thailand is also taking the reins to expand opportunities for international patients. Early last month, the government launched a $131 million Phuket medical hub, an international medical hub that would attract millions of wellness and medical tourists from around the world.
The project includes a plan to construct the Andaman International Health Center, a proposed full-service hospital with research facilities, training centers, and international patient units to cater to the needs of foreign patients. The hub is projected to train hundreds of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other allied health professionals yearly, boosting the country’s capacity and resources for health provision.
Phuket was Thailand’s pilot case to revive its tourism industry after the pandemic eased in 2021. The province was used for the government’s “sandbox” project that allowed thousands of fully vaccinated tourists to visit the country when the rest of the world still had strict travel rules in place.
Thailand, home to the renowned Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of the biggest medical destinations in Southeast Asia, is also home to some of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world, such as Elephant Rescue Park, the Grand Palace, and the Khao Yai National Park. Thailand is taking advantage of these natural attractions to boost wellness tourism as part of its medical travel package for international patients.
Thailand is also exploring corporate relationships with global layers to consolidate its growth in the medical travel industry. In 2021, the Khon Kaen Chamber of Commerce and Ratchaphruek Hospital teamed up with Global Healthcare Accreditation to access tools and resources needed to rebrand medical travel to meet global best practices for safety and quality. The partnership created a model to ensure businesses and organizations in the region align with international standards of safety and wellbeing and for medical travel businesses in the region to meet evolving patient expectations.
Over the past years, GHA has had a strong presence in Thailand. This includes accrediting three hospitals for medical travel services, one clinic for Certification for Excellence in Medical Travel Patient Experience; approximately 20 hospitals and clinics have achieved GHA's Certification of Conformance with COVID-19 Guidelines for Medical Travel Programs and two hotels have achieved GHA's WellHotel Accreditation for Medical Travel and Wellbeing.
The United Arab Emirates is also growing to become a major player in the medical tourism business through strong government-led actions. In Abu Dhabi, the Department of Health is leading innovative disruptions to attract international patients from around the world.
To accelerate this series of activities, the Department of Health and the Department of Culture and Tourism launched the Abu Dhabi Medical Tourism e-portal that provides visitors with essential information about medical travel services in the region. The portal allows health payers and buyers access to medical tourism insurance packages, the first of its kind in the region. Health consumers can also directly contact healthcare providers, book diagnostic or therapeutic procedures, and also search for and book hotels, transport, and other recreational activities seamlessly through the portal.
In the annual Arabian Travel Market, the Department of Health also establishes new partnerships and showcases advances in its healthcare industry to attract more healthcare payers and consumers. In the 2022 event, the department showcased its Capacity Master Plan, a project designed to remodel Abu Dhabi’s healthcare and medical travel landscapes to better serve domestic and international care needs.
Abu Dhabi has partnered with international centers of excellence to redefine standards of care and improve its capacity through professional training and resource sharing. Abu Dhabi recently partnered with the Mayo Clinic as part of plans to establish a healthcare hub, the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, which will draw medical travelers from all parts of the world. The Department of Health said the collaboration with the Mayo Clinic will improve professional training for the region’s healthcare staff and allow Abu Dhabi access to some of the world’s most advanced and cutting-edge medical developments.
The role of the government in driving the growth and expansion of the medical tourism market remains critical. Through government-led initiatives that promote international partnerships and create a suitable environment for health payers and investors, many countries, including Korea and the UAE, are transforming their healthcare models to not only boost their healthcare industries but also attract health payers and consumers from around the world.
Global Helthcare Accreditation
Global Healthcare Accreditation is poised to help governments and medical travel programs with the tools and resources to remodel their business to tattract more international patients. GHA Accreditation for Medical Travel helps medical tourism stakeholders with the requisite knowledge and expertise to navigate the post-pandemic world of medical travel. As patient needs evolve, medical travel businesses need to adapt to remain relevant to health payers and consumers. With leading experts as part of GHA's panel, medical tourism re-learn new strategies, including collaborations, marketing tools, and accreditation, to transform their programs into a hub that meets global best practices.