Penang takes top position in medical tourism revenue

GEORGE TOWN: Penang tops the charts in healthcare travel revenue, raking in RM750mil from 500,000 patients who flew to the state in 2019, according to Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025.

There are only 18 private hospitals in Penang, while Selangor has 54 and Kuala Lumpur has 44.

Selangor and Kuala Lumpur made RM280mil and RM340mil respectively in healthcare travel revenue in 2019.

Penang is recognised in the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint as being the “most established state in healthcare travel”, and there are sound reasons for it.

Cardiothoracic (heart and lung) surgeon Dr HY Lam, whose Indonesian patients make up about 20% of all his patients, said that for Indonesians in Sumatra, for example, coming to Penang for treatment was cheaper than going to Jakarta.

“Among reasons many Indonesians come here is the scarcity of cardiothoracic services in their country. Such services in Indonesia are usually only found in Jakarta.

“Travelling to Penang is cheaper and nearer, and even the living expenses in Penang is cheaper,” he said.

He added that patients and their caregivers sometimes had to live in Penang for an extended period because of complex treatments.

Dr Lam was pleased with news of the blueprint.

He said there were many Indonesian patients in urgent need of surgery and they could not enter Malaysia for follow-up surgeries because of the border closure.

“Some patients in Indonesia are in dire straits.

“With our strong reputation and abundance of facilities, their trust in us is high,” he said.

He said the blueprint spelt out clear guidelines for a healthcare travel reset after the Covid-19 pandemic, and this will allow doctors to save more lives.

According to the blueprint, more than 1.22 million healthcare travellers brought close to RM1.7bil in revenue for Malaysia between 2015 and 2019.

In 2019, Indonesians comprised the highest numbers at 65.8%, followed by healthcare travellers from China (5.1%), India (3.1%), the United Kingdom (2%), Japan (2%) and other countries such as Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, the United States and Bangladesh.

The blueprint reveals that 45% of healthcare travellers come for health screening, 10% seek gastroenterology treatment, 7% seek cancer therapies, another 7% for obstetrics and gynaecology treatments while the remaining fly in because of infectious diseases, cardiology and orthopaedic surgery, among numerous other reasons.

Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia board member Ronald Koh said the private healthcare community is looking forward to resuming the promotion of its services in Indonesia but recovery will be an uphill task.

“We hope international borders will reopen in the first quarter of next year and we will need to return to Indonesia to promote ourselves.

“Following the long closure, some patients might have gotten comfortable with local providers, so we hope to attract them again.

“Hopefully, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council and Immigration Department will work with us for the re-entry of healthcare travellers,” he said.

For the moment, Koh said private hospitals are conducting tele-consultations with foreign patients.

“We courier any prescribed medications to them, and test results are sent to us for analysis, but physical examinations are not possible,” he said.

He disclosed that all private hospitals in Penang are involved in medical tourism.

“Medical tourism accounts for between 10% and 50% of our total revenue,” he said, adding that travellers sought every conceivable form of medical treatment offered here.

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