Destination Spotlight

The Lure of Medical Tourism in Asia

Destination Spotlight
Would you travel across the globe for a heart bypass if it will only cost you a tenth of the usual US $122000?

The concept of medical tourism started thousands of years ago. People have been traveling across the continents in search of cures for any imaginable illnesses and making therapeutic trips for health wellness. In ancient Greece pilgrims and patients came from all over the Mediterranean to the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios at Epidaurus and from the 18th century wealthy Europeans have been traveling to spas from Germany to the Nile.

In recent years medical tourism is becoming more popular with patients seeking treatment for health and well-being purposes abroad.Why Are People Traveling?If you can get your ailing heart cured or get your flat-nose fixed at home why bother to travel across the globe for medical treatment?Patients seeking treatment abroad are motivated to do so by various reasons. Many are attracted by the low cost factor or they are simply dissatisfied with the existing medical care in their home country.

Frustrated by the long waiting times inadequate medical care and exorbitant medical expenses many go abroad in search of medical care. The steep medical costs in America have contributed to many Americans flying to other countries in search of cheaper alternatives. According to the Census Bureau as many as 46.6 million Americans were uninsured in 2005. As these uninsured Americans are not able to afford the costly medical care many will jump at the opportunity of getting treatment abroad at a fraction of the price at home.

In the UK it is not uncommon to hear patients grumbling from having to wait for as long as six months to get treated by the public health service due to the system being too stretched to cater to everyone. Otherwise they will have to opt for private health services which is very expensive.The Guardian wrote a classic case example on the medical care hiccups in Britain. George Marshall a violin repairer from Bradford was diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

He was told that he could either wait for up to six months for a heart bypass operation on the National Health Service or pay $38000 to go under the scalpel immediately. He chose to outsource his operation to India instead. He went for an operation at the Wockhardt Hospital and Heart Institute and paid only $9763.24 for surgery including travel expenses. Research and studies have shown support on the increasing trend in medical tourism.

Dr Arnold Milsein medical director of the United States based medical group Pacific Business Group told a U.S. Special Committee on Ageing in 2006 that the typical combined hospital and doctors charges for operations in technologically advanced hospitals in lower-wage countries such as Thailand were 60 to 85 percent lower than charges in the US hospitals.

An independent survey on medical tourism prices in 2006 by European Research Specialists commissioned compiled data from 108 clinics hospitals and healthcare providers in 30 countries. Research revealed that patients from UK can save up to 80 percent by going overseas for surgery and medical treatment. Medical Tourism Takes off the RunwayMedical tourism is made possible and has gained popularity due to the advancement in medical technology more affordable travel and the availability of information provided by the mass media.

As medical costs accelerate patients are finding alternatives for low-cost treatment and going abroad to get healthy seems very appealing. Lured by the promise of high quality reliable medical care at a lower cost patients are flying across the globe for medical treatment that they otherwise would not have access to easily due to prohibitive costs long waiting time or unavailability of treatment in their home country.

The promise of medical care and the attraction of exotic places are taking people places for medical care. First World Treatment at Third World Prices International patients are flocking to Asia for elective and cosmetic procedures an increasing pool of patients are getting their ailing heart fixed or have hip replaced in countries such as Singapore and India.Choices are also not limited to medicine or western treatment there are growing interests in alternative medicine providing holistic therapy to patients.

Alternative medicine such as Ayurveda acupuncture osteopathy chiropractic and homeopathy etc. are gaining popularity among medical tourists. Countries such as China and India are promoting alternative medicine to international patients searching for holistic cures.Hospitals in Asia are carving out an outstanding reputation for themselves drawing overseas patients with top-notch doctors low cost high-tech equipments and high quality patient care. Countries such as Thailand Singapore India Philippines South Korea and Malaysia see a combined 1.3 million tourists each year for medical treatment.

This move is expected to contribute at least US $4 billion by 2012 to the Asia medical tourism industry and US $40 billion globally.Experience Asias BestAmazing ThailandThailand better known among foreigners as a popular destination for leisure tourism has earned for itself a name in the medical tourism industry. The Thai government is quick in realizing and identifying the great opportunities that medical tourism will bring.

They have made significant inroads as an early investor in medical tourism with strong support from the healthcare institutions in the country making Thailand into one of the leading medical tourist destination in Asia. The medical tourism industry is expected to attract two million medical tourists into Thailand by 2012.Hundreds of hospitals and clinics catering to foreigners are establishing themselves across the country like mushrooms on a rainy day.

They offer everything from dentistry and cosmetic surgery to heart operations and sex change procedures to preventive care and health treatment.Catering to the alternative medicine market Tria the new kid on the block introduced into the market by the Piyavate Hospital is a specialist spa promising to bring wellness to a new level. Equipped with the latest in modern science combined with homeopathic and other treatments to provide preventive care and health treatments the four storey complex boasts 19 consultation rooms four detoxification rooms and two colonic-hydrotherapy rooms.

Incredible IndiaMedical tourism is not new to India  housing some of the worlds best medical care providers that are equipped with technological sophistication and infrastructure India drew an estimated 150000 overseas patients last year. Coupled with its vast experience in dealing with overseas patients medical tourists have no qualms about traveling to India to receive medical treatment.

The Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre ranks as having the best cardiac hospital in India. Equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment the 332-bed Institute has nine operating rooms and carries out nearly 15000 procedures every year. The Wockhardt Hospitals Group has an association with Harvard Medical International the global arm of the Harvard Medical School and is the first super specialty hospital in South Asia to achieve accreditation from Joint Commission International (JCI) USA.

This established Group has a chain of super specialty hospitals such as Wockhardt Brain & Spine Hospital Wockhardt Hip Resurfacing Centre and Wockhardt Liver & Kidney Institute Kolkatta catering to specific needs of their patients.Uniquely SingaporeSingaporeMedicine a multi-agency government initiative aims at developing Singapore into one of Asias leading destinations for international patients.

Looking at the visibility that Singapore has gained as a top destination for medical travelers Singapore Medicine is fast on its way to achieving this objective. Through their aggressive campaigns Singapore is expected to attract over one million foreign patients annually by 2012.Singapores efforts in promoting medical tourism have shown success. According to recent reports Parkway Group Healthcare received 170 Russian patients last year with average bill between $10000 and $60000 for each patient and Raffles Hospital for example boasted a 36 percent of its occupancy by foreign patients.

WOW PhilippinesThe Philippines has also jumped on the medical tourism bandwagon. It has become so popular and successful in driving its medical tourism effort officially known as the Philippine Medical Tourism Program (PMPT) that the countrys medical directors and government officials met in California in May this year to discuss the health tourism industry and how to effectively promote it.Prominent hospitals like St. Lukes Medical Center Asian Hospital and Medical Centre and Philippine Heart Centre etc. are active participants and advocates for this program.

Jade del Mundo Health Undersecretary of the Philippines said that a total of 200000 foreigners came to the Philippines for medical treatment such as cosmetic surgery and eye or dental treatments. He said that the bustling medical tourism program of the Philippines is expected to contribute between US $300 million and US $400 million next year. The Philippines health department estimates as much as US $200 million has been generated from medical tourism alone.

Medical Tourism Whetting AppetitesThe spurt in the industry has created a vacuum that is quickly being filled with organizations or professionals eager to capture a share of the pie. Everyone from finance insurance travel hospitality as well as health professionals who have seen the potential of this industry with its growing audience are looking for opportunities to fill in the gap in the medical tourism puzzle.Though many are eager to be the right pieces in the puzzle many are still struggling to get the right fit.

There are a number of concerns and risk factors for patients getting treatment much less seeking them abroad. Some additional concerns for patients include a consistent quality of care lack of extensive dialog between the patient and the doctor lack of post-op follow up cultural differences and difficulty in obtaining sufficient insurance coverage.As this industry is driven by patients or travelers who become patients it will be interesting to see whether the industry will meet their expectations.

Medical Tourism  The Other Side of the StoryMuch have been said and claimed about the surging medical tourism industry and how its players are benefiting from it however not much is known about the other side of the story  the patients themselves.The Medical TouristThere are many testimonies supporting the claim of quality medical care and low cost expenses by those who have been there and done that however what about the potential medical tourists.

Where can they find quality information on the services provided abroad? How do they know whos good and whos not. Although there are a few indisputable medical centers who have already carved their name in the industry there are a great many more that are less well known. Should this have a bearing on whether they are capable of providing quality healthcare?Take for example India there are thousands of hospitals sprawling across the country.

Some have already been identified as the place to go for medical treatment however there are still many that are below the radar. The richer hospitals are able to afford to provide patients with the luxury of five star accommodation and service with equally advanced treatments and services but the hospitals that are less well funded are only able to provide medical care minus the other peripherals. So how do the medical tourists choose?

Medical Tourism Riding on the WavesThe term and concept of modern medical tourism may have been around for the last decade but it is still in its infancy stage. There are many challenges and obstacles ahead as with any burgeoning industry. There are a few players who are already paving the way and leading from the front but there is significantly more who are jumping onto the bandwagon.

It is crucial that in this race to be the best and offer the most the travelers/patients do not get marginalized in the industry. Continuous training for healthcare workers to ensure consistent quality of care is essential as is consistency in the service that a patient receives before and after deciding on their doctor or the medical centre where they will be receiving treatment.

Medical referrers and those providing concierge services need to have a strict understanding of the quality of medical care provided by those that they are affiliated with and ensure that that information as well as the risks is clearly brought across to the travelers.Each player must play their part in ensuring that the medical tourism industry will continue to grow and benefit those that are in it  both patients and providers.

Both Authors work for Avail Corporation which had put on a conference called International Medical Travel Conference ( in November 2007 at Manila Philippines.

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