KUALA LUMPUR: IN January, International Living (IL), an authority on global retirement and relocation opportunities, had put Malaysia in sixth place for its “10 Best Places to Retire” list.
Part of the Annual Global Retirement Index, Malaysia received high scores in the “Healthcare” and “Fitting In” categories — the latter was due to the fact that the country was a melting pot of world communities, according to IL senior editor Dan Prescher.
Last year, Malaysia welcomed more than one million healthcare tourists, who contributed more than RM1 billion in hospital revenue, said Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive officer (CEO) Sherene Azli.
“There has been an overall growth in tourists for medical tourism.
“From 643,000 travellers in 2011, the number rose to 859,000 in 2015. In terms of revenue, we recorded RM527 million and RM914 million for 2011 and 2015, respectively,” she said.
“If we take other medical revenue into account, healthcare travel contributed between RM3 billion and RM4 billion to the country’s economy in 2015.”
She said the travellers were mostly from Indonesia, India, China, Japan, the United Kingdom (UK), Australia and Middle Eastern countries. Among the treatments they sought were in cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, neurology, dental and fertility treatments, cosmetic surgery and rehabilitation services.
MHTC is an agency under the Health Ministry that has been entrusted with the responsibility of promoting the country’s healthcare travel sector, which is a National Key Economic Area.
This year, the MHTC aims to achieve RM1.3 billion in revenue, and potentially contribute RM5 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product through other medical travel revenue, including dental, cosmetic, wellness, logistics and hospitality services.
“MHTC has also identified Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar and China as core markets based on the volume of healthcare tourists received, as well as growth potential of the respective markets.
“Additionally, we have representatives in Indonesia (Jakarta), Myanmar (Yangon), Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), China, and most recently, India, to gain faster access to our core markets and facilitate potential visitors with enquiries and healthcare travel assistance.”
She said the MHTC planned to increase its market penetration in those countries while aggressively raising the country’s profile in secondary markets like Bangladesh, Australia, the UK and the Middle East.
The number of healthcare tourists from India, for example, had doubled in less than five years, she said.
“In 2011, there were over 18,000 Indian travellers who sought various treatments in Malaysia. That figure rose to more than 39,000 in 2015 at a rate of 116 per cent.”
She said healthcare tourism in the country had moved from strength to strength in the last few years.
“The country was named Medical Travel Destination of the Year at the Medical Travel Awards for two consecutive years in 2015 and 2016 by the International Medical Travel Journal.
“Malaysia was also named ‘Best Country in the World for Healthcare’ by IL’s Global Retirement Index for three consecutive years, from 2015 to 2017,” Sherene added.
Sherene herself had been honoured as one of 50 outstanding women in healthcare at this year’s World Health and Wellness Congress in February — another global milestone for the country.
To further attract foreign tourists to our shores for healthcare tourism, the MHTC has embarked on a “Malaysia Loves You” campaign in February.
Launched by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, it aims to promote Malaysian healthcare in several key areas, namely quality, accessibility, affordability and ease of communication.
At the same time, Sherene said the campaign hoped to increase global awareness on Malaysia’s potential as a leading healthcare travel destination.
“We believe that Malaysia has all the qualities in international healthcare tourism. To top it off, it is easy for travellers to communicate with health professionals here, be it in English, Tamil, Hindi or Chinese.”
Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) CEO Kadar Marikar said the accreditation received by Malaysian hospitals and healthcare providers had raised travellers’ confidence in the country as a healthcare tourism destination.
“Foreign patients will be well-assured of safe care when they seek medical care in MSQH accredited facilities. The accreditation process focuses on patient care with measurable safety outcomes, while minimising the risk of adverse events.
“Accreditation of healthcare facilities and services in Malaysia by MSQH since 2000 has helped put in place the Standards of Services. Among others, it focuses on putting the right structures and processes, minimising risks as well as measuring performances to ensure safe patient care and outcome.”
The MSQH accreditation programme is internationally-recognised by the International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua).
Kadar said the four-year accreditation programme also helped to build tourists’ confidence in healthcare industry providers.
To boost the arrival of foreign patients to Malaysia and bolster their confidence in local healthcare facilities, he said medical healthcare/medical tourism facilitators should have a strong presence to assist patients.
“We need to develop and certify professional medical tourism facilitators to make sure they are knowledgeable in the field.”
International Islamic University Malaysia Associate Professor Noor Hazila Abd Manaf of the Department of Business Administration agrees.
Noor Hazila co-authored a paper entitled “Medical Tourism Service Quality”, on the local healthcare tourism industry that focused on service quality, perceived value, overall satisfaction and future intention of medical tourists in Malaysian hospitals.
“Malaysia already has a strong footing in the accreditation of its hospitals through MSQH.
“The government has also established the MHTC, a one-stop centre to promote the country’s medical services abroad.
“Although a relative newcomer, the results of promoting the industry can be seen from the increasing number of international patients coming to the country,” she said.
Noor Hazila said her report aimed to identify important constituents of medical tourism, which might assist policymakers and hospital managers in understanding the industry better.
“In order for Malaysian hospitals to continue competing on the global front and attracting more international healthcare tourists, it needs to follow the examples of leading medical tourist hospitals by widely publicising the outcome of their services on their websites as a means of communicating their technical competency.
“For example, India’s Apollo Group of Hospitals publicises a 90 per cent success rate in more than 500 liver transplants they performed.
“Similarly, Thailand’s Spine Institute at Bumrungrad International claimed a 95 per cent rate of success in its website for its spinal endoscopic surgeries performed on more than 600 patients.”
Revealing information on technical competence, she said, could give patients a sense of assurance in quality.
“However, browsing the websites of Malaysian medical tourism hospitals show a gap in the dissemination of such information.”
Aside from this, she said it was also important for service providers to ensure a high quality of service from its medical staff.
Tech and experience, a winning combination for Sunway Med
SINCE winning the International Hospital of the Year award in Madrid, Spain, last year, Sunway Medical Centre has seen a steady growth in international patients.
The award was presented by the International Medical Travel Journal.
Sunway Healthcare managing director Lau Beng Long said the hospital recorded an 18 per cent increase in the number of international patients from 2015 to last year, with 13 per cent increase in revenue.
“We found that there is a 30 per cent increase in healthcare tourist traffic and 12 per cent increase in expatriate patients.”
He attributed the hospital’s success to its “people, our technology and our product”.
“There are a couple of factors, I believe, have enabled us to clinch this award. We differentiate ourselves in the market by positioning it as the one-stop centre not just in medical services, but also the entire supply chain of medical tourism experience”.
Sunway Medical Centre is strategically located in Sunway Resort City, which is a stone’s throw away from Sunway Hotel, Sunway Theme Park, Sunway Shopping Mall and Sunway University. This provided a comprehensive solution for patients who need a healing environment.
“We also have a dedicated international patient centre team, which provides one-stop services for our international patients, ranging from providing treatment options, to cost estimate, hotel and transport booking, interpreting services and so on.
“We serve international patients from more than 130 countries, and are recognised for orthopedics, digestive health, neurology, ENT and urology.
“Last year, we set up our cancer, radiosurgery and nuclear medicine centre, which provides comprehensive solutions for cancer treatment. “
He said Sunway Medical Centre was also the first hospital in Southeast Asia to have received the accreditation from the Australian Council on HealthCare Standards.
“Ultimately, people are our best asset. We take pride in our specialists, majority of whom are trained overseas in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, and also our dedicated nursing and allied health teams.
“With technology and experienced, SunMed is the first private hospital in Malaysia to perform total joint knee replacement surgery using computer navigation, deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease, endoluminal grafting for abdominal aortic aneurysm, cornea transplant, etc.
“Overall we see a balanced distribution of patients coming for different treatments.”
On the profile of medical tourists visiting the hospital, he said most of the patients were from neighbouring countries.
“Again, we are seeing a fair distribution of patients from Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Asia, Middle East and the West.
“Top of the list are patients from Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Yemen, India, Australia, Pakistan, the US, Japan and Maldives.
“A majority of our foreign patients are aged 30 and over. The length of stay will vary based on their treatment and procedure.”
He said the hospital was currently undergoing an expansion.
“Upon completion of Tower C in the second quarter of this year, there will be 600 beds at Sunway Medical Centre’s facilities, with 180 consultation suites and 1,470 parking bays.
“We are also growing our services to strengthen our centres of excellence, recruiting more consultants and nurses to provide competent care, upgrading our facilities, and introducing more technology,” he said.