Medical tourism is becoming a significant contributor to Malaysia's travel industry. Once a laggard, tourism has grown rapidly in the last 10 years to become the second largest foreign exchange earner. Malaysia has been named among the world’s top five medical tourism destinations for medical tourists and foreign investors according to online investment news source Nuwire Investors. Selected based on the quality and affordability of medical care and receptiveness to foreign investment, Malaysia came third behind Panama and Brazil and was followed by Costa Rica and India.
The government has identified health care as an area with potential, and is eyeing the booming middle classes in the region as a lucrative market. Last year, it set up the Health-care Travel Council, identifying 35 private hospitals for the promotion of medical tourism. The government also introduced tax breaks for hospitals running such programs, incentives for the construction or expansion of hospitals, and other incentives like permits to allow hospital vehicles to ferry patients to and from airports or hotels.
The sector has seen sharp growth in recent years. Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak has said the health tourism revenue of the 35 earmarked private hospitals had grown from RM59 billion to RM299 billion in the last five years. The growth came about with an increase in the number of foreign patients, from 100,000 a year to about 392,956 now - a growth of 30 to 35 per cent a year. This year alone between January and March, the number of tourists seeking medical care was 112,951 which generated an income of RM105 million. Malaysia's advantage is its relatively low costs, high standards and well-developed infrastructure.
According to the Health Ministry, an angioplasty that can cost US$57,000 (S$79,000) in the United States and US$13,000 in Thailand costs only US$11,000 in Malaysia. And a knee replacement procedure which costs US$40,000 in the US and US$13,000 in Singapore can be done for just US$8,000 in Malaysia.
Such savings have no doubt benefited medical centres like the private Pantai Medical Centre, which runs nine hospitals and KPJ which runs 20 hospitals all throughout the country. With more than 2,600 licensed beds, KPJ hospitals offer a comprehensive range of medical services and have treated some 2.42 million outpatients and over 220,000 inpatients in 2010.
In brief, the factors that contribute to making Malaysia a centre of medical excellence in the region are listed below:
Safe and politically stable country.
Wide choice of world class infrastructure facilities e.g. National Heart Institute and Tun Hussien Onn National Eye Hospital.
Competitive and affordable pricing and favorable exchange rate.
Highly qualified, experienced and skilled consultants with internationally recognized qualifications.
Tolerant multi-cultural and multi-racial Malaysian society accommodates Patients of different cultures and religions.
Communication is easy - English speaking medical staffs.
State-of-the-art technology, such as MRI, 64-Slice CT Scan, PET Scanner for early detection of cancer and other diseases, cyber knife which is able to radiate tumors without damaging adjacent vital structures.
Quality and safety system in place, such as ISO and accreditation by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH).
The Ministry of Health, Malaysia has set up a Corporate Policy and Health Industry Division to promote medical tourism and related healthcare products including traditional medicine, etc. As such, the Ministry's promotional efforts private sector.
Attractive and affordable packages during recuperation period.
Most private hospitals in Malaysia offers accommodation ranging from comfortable to luxurious, including private rooms and suites. Meals are included and rates vary depending on the level of service required. Sleep in facilities can also be easily provided for traveling companions and again given Malaysia’s relatively low costs yet high standard of living, long term stays are an acceptable option.
For less critical care cases, during recuperation period and convalescence, patients have the opportunity to enjoy sightseeing and other tourist activities. Visit can be made to Malaysia’s beautiful beaches especially since some medical centers are located at popular beach or tourist locations as for most patients, taking a bit of sightseeing or going on a shopping spree could stimulate recovery.
Notable medical centre in Malaysia for medical tourism are Prince Court Medical Centre, Adventist Hospital in Penang, Gleneagle Intan Medical Centre, Twin Tower Medical Centre, National Heart Institute (IJN), Pantai Hospital, Subang Jaya Medical Centre, Sunway Medical Centre and many others.
The healthcare industry will be contending with an increasing population growth rate coupled with an ageing population that will require hospitals to shift according to such demographic and epidemiological changes. Old diseases appear to be on the comeback and the borderless world makes it ever more imperative that hospitals are prepared for epidemics on a large scale.
The government will also grant tax exemption to hospitals that received accreditation from the Joint Commission International (JCI) based on their quality of services to patients. Currently Malaysia had 8 hospitals accredited by the JCI, in addition to 41 private hospitals registered under the MHTC.
Many large healthcare companies are looking for land which is suitable for the development of private hospital especially in Klang Valley. Large healthcare organizations such as Columbia Asia Hospital and KPJ are also looking for land and commercial premises suitable for such development.