In the global medical tourism industry, one of the key elements in increasing a country’s stake in the market is the quality of its healthcare infrastructure. The Medical Tourism Index, which gives a quantitative measure of the destination attractiveness of a medical tourist country, factors healthcare infrastructure as a significant standard for rating a country’s medical tourism market.
The competition for international patients has heated on as governments, and private healthcare groups are starting to identify essential market determinants and take proactive steps to up their game and create more channels for an influx of medical travelers to their respective destinations.
One of such countries is Malaysia. In 2016, the Malaysian government invested about $5.2 billion, approximately 10% of the budget, into the healthcare sector for development of healthcare infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, and medical tourism.
Through the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) founded in 2009, the country implemented several of these measures with a goal of generating revenue of RM2.8 billion (equivalent to USD 722 million) by 2020. The market value for medical tourism in the country, as of 2017, was estimated at $309 million.
In line with this goal, the Association of Malaysian Medical Industries (AMMI) released funding of about $361 million into the medical device industry. Malaysia, being a hub for electronics manufacturing, has developed a medical device manufacturing industry in the state of Penang. This, Malaysian authorities say, would boost the availability of medical equipment while minimizing the cost of procurement through import.
In addition, the government is redefining health services in the country’s healthcare hubs in Penang, Johor, and Melaka. Six niche medical research facilities and several multi-specialist facilities are being developed in these regions to serve as a central hub for attracting investments and medical tourists.
Malaysia is the medical tourist hub for a number of patients from the Middle East. The country also frequently receives medical tourists from Australia, China, and Japan and most of these patients visit to undergo cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries as well as complex abdominal procedures.
Recent Infrastructure Development in Europe
In 2015, The European Commission approved over €200 million euro for investments in developing healthcare infrastructures in the Northern Great Plain, Southern Transdanubia, and Southern Great Plains regions of Hungary. These projects include establishing a state-of-the-art hospital complex in the Northern area and providing cutting-edge technology and IT equipment for existing healthcare facilities in the Southern Great Plain Region.
These investments channeled into structural developments in the largest hospital in the Southern Transdanubia region, The Clinical Centre of the University of Pecs. This project saw an upgrade in the clinical services and infrastructure at the facility and establishment of a world-class emergency unit.
These investments were part of the 2007-2013 Operational program “Social Infrastructure” which came under the category “Development of the healthcare infrastructure,” and the European Development Fund funded more than 85% of the cost for these projects.
The UK is also making giant strides in reshaping its healthcare systems to achieve a better quality of life for citizens and high-quality healthcare delivery for international patients. Early this year, about £70 million was invested under the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund to develop digital health innovations, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and high tech medical research.
The funding will lead to the development of digital speech therapy innovations for rehabilitation of patients with stroke and brain injury and healthcare technology manufacturing. As part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Infrastructure Roadmap Program, companies and organizations will receive funding for manufacturing of major scientific equipment, advances in precision medicine, and innovations in digitalized medicine.
One of such companies that to receive funding is MeiraGTx, a biomedical company which develops genetic therapies for a number of acquired and inherited disorders including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. MeiraGTx is set to work with other biomedical companies including Symbiosis Pharmaceutical Services and Torchlight Genetics to provide ground-breaking genetic therapies.
Furthermore, Innovative UK also plans to invest £8 million in 52 projects for the development of digitalized medicine. Some of the companies to receive these funds include Neurofenix which, in partnership with Brunel University London, will produce digital rehabilitative programs for patients with head injury and stroke.
Through these innovative competitions, the UK government is also planning to set up three advanced therapies treatment centers throughout the UK to advance precision medicine and gene therapies. These centers will ensure collaboration between hospitals and with genetic engineering companies across the UK.
United Arab Emirates
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is undergoing phenomenal infrastructural development in its healthcare system to deliver high-quality healthcare and boost its attractiveness to medical tourists.
According to the UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda, the country aims to develop a world-class healthcare system and become one of the leading nations, not only in Asia but in the world, with regards to healthcare quality. With current developments in medical infrastructure, innovations, and digitalized healthcare, UAE may be well on its way to achieving this feat.
In 2016, the UAE government approved an investment of about $1 billion to boost the development of healthcare infrastructure, establish more state-of-the-art hospitals and medical schools, and create digitalized health innovations.
The country recently developed the first comprehensive electronic portal, Dubai Health Experience, for medical tourists in which all travel, healthcare, accommodation, and visa services are provided at the click of a button. The initiative aims to be assessed by more than 500,000 international health travelers by 2020.
Additionally, Emirates Hospital Group, a JCI-accredited healthcare institution has set out plans to boost investments in healthcare by $300 million over the next few years. The group aims to achieve massive infrastructural growth through its flagship brands – Emirates Hospitals and Clinics, Emirates Rehab and Homecare, and Emirates CosmeSurge.
With the development of the Dubai Healthcare city which provides massive healthcare infrastructure for patient care and inventors, UAE will take center stage in medical tourism in the coming years.
Healthcare infrastructure development is sweeping through a number of countries and regions as the market for medical tourism becomes more competitive. As one of the key drivers of medical tourism, it is without a doubt, that the health travel industry holds a lot of promise and countries which invest in healthcare today will control a larger share of the market in the future.