MALAYSIA is emerging as a hub for medical tourism due to a confluence of factors.
One main but more recent driver is the weak local currency, which in turn makes medical services here more attractive to overseas patients.
Other key factors that have worked well in attracting medical tourists to Malaysia include an established private healthcare industry and the country’s strong multilingual population base.
For many years certain private hospitals in Malaysia have already been attracting foreign patients from countries such as Indonesia and Myanmar which have less developed medical healthcare. But medical tourists from as far as the US and China are now heading to Malaysia. This trend is now growing and local hospitals are set to benefit.
Several hospital groups have confirmed with StarBizWeek that patient numbers have grown in the past few years as the country’s reputation among medical tourists continues to firm up abroad.
According to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) the medical tourism industry is expected to achieve its targeted revenue of RM1.3bil this year from RM1bil in 2016.
Earlier, health ministry statistics show that in 2015 medical tourism revenue amounted to more than RM900mil from RM777mil in 2014.
The MHTC says the industry is experiencing a 30% growth year-on-year.
The council estimated that medical tourists’ contribution to the economy were double that of regular tourists.
Meanwhile, a report by the International Living magazine last month rated Malaysia as one of the four countries with high quality and affordable healthcare.
Malaysia was surprisingly placed alongside Costa Rica, Colombia and Mexico with having clean, excellent hospitals, highly trained doctors, and very affordable care.
Further, the “What Clinic Global Report” revealed that Malaysia saw the US as its fastest growing medical tourism market that had grown some 32% in the past 12 months.
The report says that US medical tourists also saw cheaper costs due to the severely weakened ringgit to the US Dollar.
The What Clinic Global Report which focused its research on plastic surgery trends globally including in Malaysia notes that liposuction, rhinoplasty and breast implants all top the list of treatments being sought by medical tourists.
The report examined over 10,000 patient enquiries made to over 100 top clinics over a two year period to track changing demands for key treatments within the plastic surgery market in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, hospitals locally are also seeing an increase in demand from medical tourists.
TMC Life Sciences Bhd which operates the TMC Fertility Centre in Kota Damansara tells StarBizWeek that there has been an increase in medical tourists from China of late.
“Our fertility side of the business has been getting an increase in medical tourists. For example the latest ruling to ease the one child policy in China to allow them to have two kids has translated to an increase in medical tourists for our fertility business,” a spokesperson says.
“Between 15-20% of all patients are medical tourists. There has been positive growth from like three years.
“These patients are usually from Indonesia, Singapore and last year there was growth from the China and the Indochina region.
“We are also the elite member of the MHTC which is dedicated to promoting medical tourism,” she adds.
For another hospital, the Oriental Melaka Straits Medical Centre (OMSMC), it had seen the number of medical tourists doubling in 2016 compared to 2015, recording a 110% growth in 2016.
“However, we also think this is because we are coming from a low base.
“Medical tourists contributed to about 5.5% of our total patient volume and about 9% of total revenue,” managing director Dr Tan Hui Ling says.
Tan says that most medical tourists to OMSMC are from Indonesia, China and Singapore.
“Indonesians continue to come to Malaysia as we have international standard quality healthcare delivery system.
“In particular, we also see an increase in Chinese medical tourists helped by there being direct flights from Guangzhou to Malacca and the recent huge amount of investments from Chinese investors in the state,” Tan says.
Tan says patients are particularly interested in a complete one-stop health check-up.
She notes that the weakened ringgit also saw Singaporeans seeking surgical treatment here on top of health screening.
“Singaporeans, can potentially save up to 60% of treatment cost, not to mention the opportunity for shopping and eating spree with short travelling journey and better environment for recuperation,” Tan says.
For OMSMC, top treatment or procedures that were in demand include eye surgery, orthopaedic surgery, general surgery and treatment of infectious diseases.
Meanwhile for IHH Healthcare Bhd, Asia’s largest public listed hospital operator, the group says that the primary growth driver for its Malaysian operations still comes from local patients with medical tourism serving as an additional growth catalyst.
An IHH spokesperson says that usual countries where medical tourists come from include Indonesia and the Middle East.
“There are also less traditional ones such as Bangladesh.
“This is due to our differentiated ability to take on complex cases and at attractive rates as well as our ongoing rejuvenation and expansion of existing facilities such as Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur, and the opening of new ones such as Gleneagles Medini to cater to previously underserved geographies for both Malaysians and medical tourists,” the spokesperson says.