For decades, Malaysia has been one of the main international tourist destinations for medical treatment. With a high standard of quality, state-of-the-art equipment, competitive prices and a high level of expertise, Malaysia has been recording a steady growth in medical tourism. Er Audy Zandri of The Jakarta Post talked with the Malaysian Minister of Tourism, Dato’ Sri Azalina Othman Said, on Jan. 20. Here are the excerpts:
Question: Recently, the Ministry of Tourism launched its Medical Tourism program. What does the term “medical tourism” mean to you?
Answer: Internationally, medical tourism is defined as traveling across international borders to attain health-care services. This includes elective procedures and complex surgeries like joint replacement, cardiac bypass, dental and cosmetic surgeries. The term is not necessarily limited to a certain scope. While health tourism focuses more on beauty, wellness and leisure, medical tourism leans further toward serious medical treatment.
These people come from different countries and that aspect should also be considered important. Their families, for example, might also be traveling with them. Usually, after the treatment they might want to travel around Malaysia or relax at a resort island while recuperating.
What are the strengths of Malaysia as a country to provide
Our safe and politically stable environment has always been our main strength in attracting tourists, whether for medical or recreational activities. We have highly qualifi ed, experienced and skilled doctors. Foreign health patients will be pleased to note that we have multi-cultural and multi-lingual medical staff, who are hospitable. English is widely spoken here, so there is no problem.
Incidentally, most of the medical treatment centers and clinics are less than a few kilometers from the airport. Our medical state-of-the-art-medical technologies (both in government and private hospitals) are among the world’s best. Special attention is given to foreign health patients under the medical tourism program, especially at the KL International Airport, where the Green Lane System expedites immigration and custom clearance, thus giving patients quick transfer to the hospitals and clinics.
Regarding the Medical Tourism program, when was the initial launch? And which parties are involved and what is the main goal?
The story of Medical Tourism in Malaysia goes back even before 1993, with tourists already coming to the country to seek professional medical treatment. Realizing its growing market and potential, Malaysia established itself as a regional hub for health-care services in January 1998, following the setting up of the National Committee for the Promotion of Health Tourism.
Several parties involved in the setting up of this committee were the Tourism Ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM), the Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agencies (MATTA), Malaysia Airlines and a number of notable private hospitals. Our goal was to promote health and medical treatment in this country through a series of activities and events.
How has the response been throughout the years and how big do you think is the potential?
Medical Tourism is a sector with vast potential. According to Tourism Ministry research in 2007, 341,288 foreign patients were listed as medical tourists who attributed to a total spending of RM253.84 million. This was a 15.03 percent increase from 2006.
Although this is a small number compared to the overall number of tourists coming to Malaysia for a vacation, the constant 20 percent annual increase (from 2001 to 2007) refl ects the confi dence in Malaysia as a medical and tourism hub.
To date, medical tourism has brought in a total of 1.3 million foreign health patients with a revenue of RM852.32 million (US$243.52 million).
How high is the demand for medical tourism, and what are the contributing factors?
Foreign health patients have increased constantly. This reflects their confi dence in the quality of our medical treatment, lured by our competitive medical fees and modern facilities. It is a common understanding that patients can undergo treatment and recuperate in any part of Malaysia for much less than what it would cost them for treatment in other countries. Normal cardiac bypass surgery in this country, for example, would only cost around US$9,000. Most private medical centers have also attained certifi cation for internationally recognized quality standards such as MS ISO 9002 or have been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality of Health, which is affi rmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as complying with international standards.
The government has a number of supporting policies and programs in the health care system, could you give an explanation on this?
As far as the Ministry of Tourism goes, the National Committee for the Promotion of Health Tourism has collaborated with the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) through its trade missions. We also collaborate with state governments, private hospital groups, Tourism Malaysia through its promotional activities, and most recently with the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia. We have identifi ed 35 private hospitals in the country as the spearheads of our medical tourism destinations.
In terms of supporting policies, the Ministry of Health has strict policies about hospital standards and costs. Public hospitals, for example, are obliged to serve the country’s citizens with the best medical treatment at the lowest cost possible. With just about RM2, any local citizen of Malaysia can walk into any government hospital for a medical checkup.
Regulations in the form of maximum costs for major surgeries and both common and specific medical procedures have also been adopted over the years, prompting government and private hospitals to charge much below the maximum standardized costs, and that’s why our medical fees are highly competitive.
Institute Jantung Negara, as most people understand, is a care center dedicated solely to the subject of cardiac; do other specialty hospitals exist in Malaysia?
The National Heart Institute is acknowledged as a world-class facility. Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital is also a world-class facility for eye treatment. The new Prince Court Medical Center, as I have informed, has expertise in dealing with burns.
What are your targets in the coming years?
With better synergy from different government departments, well thought out promotional programs and other proactive measures, we intend to double the number of medical tourists in the coming years. After all, the standards, the medical quality and experts are already available.