Indonesian patients can’t wait to come here

GEORGE TOWN: Now that the government has decided to reopen our borders to healthcare travellers, Malaysia’s medical tourism is set to begin its recovery soon.

For example, there are indications that Indonesians are eager to fly to Penang for medical treatment and procedures.

However, local private hospitals are handling this development with a reasonable dose of caution.

Given that Indonesia has 46,845 Covid-19 cases so far, with 954 new ones recorded yesterday, there are fears that Covid-19 clusters will emerge within the private healthcare industry in Malaysia if medical tourism is up and running again without sturdy standard operating procedure (SOP) in place.

“We are going to take small steps. We are happy that medical tourism can start again, but we mustn’t jeopardise everything Malaysians have done to flatten the Covid-19 curve, ” said Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh.

Of the over 1.2 million medical tourists who arrived in 2018, some 670,000 or 56% were Indonesians and more than half of them went to Penang.

The Klang Valley and Melaka are also popular medical tourism destinations.

“We know Indonesia’s numbers. Their Covid-19 cases are still rising and nowhere near under control.

“What happens if the medical tourists have Covid-19? We cannot send them to government hospitals. It’s not fair, ” said Dr Kuljit, who is an ear, nose and throat surgeon and the medical director of Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Since the start of Malaysia’s fight against Covid-19, only government hospitals have treated patients with the virus. Private hospitals and clinics are required to immediately refer such cases to the government.

“If our foreign patients arrive and despite all the precautions they test positive for Covid-19, there is potential for them to develop serious complications when they have other ailments as well.

“We are proud of the Health Ministry for its handling of the pandemic. We don’t want to burden government hospitals or create more trouble for the frontliners, ” Dr Kuljit said.

He said APHM would advise all private hospitals not to be “gung-ho” in accepting foreign patients again, to strictly follow the detailed SOP and to be “very sure that the patients and their guardians coming are Covid-19-negative”.

According to APHM board member Ronald Koh, shortly after Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said last Friday that foreigners could come to Malaysia for medical treatment, a video featuring the minister went viral in Indonesia.

The video shows him making the announcement and had this caption in Indonesian: “Good news on Malaysia’s lockdown. Indonesians can now quickly get treatment in Malaysia again.”

Koh, who is also the chief executive officer of Penang Adventist Hospital, said: “Our Indonesian patients are excited about coming again. We are ready to keep them in quarantine zones if need be.”

He added that Penang’s service sector was hit hard by the border closure, with most of the state’s private hospitals suffering a plunge in revenue of more than 60%.

“They (the medical tourists) come for many days with family members, who will go shopping and food hunting. Their economic value to the state is enormous, ” he said.

“But there are more questions about ensuring the safety of Malaysians. We are waiting for detailed instructions from the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) and the Health Ministry, ” Koh said.

In his announcement on Friday, Ismail Sabri said foreign patients accompanied by one guardian each could enter Malaysia without mandatory quarantine after registering with the MHTC.

They must go straight to the private hospitals of their choice.

More SOP will be announced soon.

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