Penang back as a magnet for healthcare travellers


Medical advice: Penang Adventist Hospital consultant orthopedic surgeon Dr Ho Shu Chien attending to a patient. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The heart of a man from Medan was functioning at only 15% by the time he could fly to Penang after travel restrictions caused by Covid-19 were lifted.

He also suffered multiple heart attacks back home during the Malaysia’s movement control order (MCO).

When the restrictions were lifted, he flew to Penang - and is alisve and well today.

For folk in Medan, Indonesia, Penang is closer than their country’s capital, Jakarta.

And the man only trusts the surgeon he met in Penang - Lam Wah Ee Hospital’s cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Lam Hong Yoong.

Dr Lam said the man was frail because of the many blockages in his heart and no other surgeon in his city was willing operate.

“The cost would also have been exorbitant. So my patient waited and did his best to stay alive till he could fly to Penang.

“Eventually, he came here and we performed the seven-hour surgery.

“He was discharged shortly after,” said Dr Lam yesterday.

Lam Wah Ee Hospital is a charity hospital, which originally started as a Chinese medicine clinic in 1883.

Dr Lam said the patient was among tens of thousands who come to Penang not as leisurely travellers, but as sick people in need of private healthcare.

“He recovered well and spent a few extra days staying in a hotel here after he was discharged.

“It is common for healthcare travellers to spend at least a week recuperating here before returning to their country,” said Dr Lam.

Penang Medical Practitioner’s Society president Datuk Dr Tan Kah Keong, a nephrologist, agreed that by now, Penang’s private healthcare has returned to fully serving the medical needs of the region.

“Indonesia continues to contribute more than 50% of patients.

“This is partly due to Penang’s ideal ecosystem in this region, from our languages to our culture, food and affordability, while providing quality healthcare comparable with international standards.

“We must continue aiming to be the centre of excellence for healthcare travellers so that they will continue coming here for treatments on cardiovascular, oncology, fertility, aesthetic and even dental problems, which are more affordable here,” he said.

Dr Tan said the industry’s revenue this year might even surpass pre-MCO days.

Last month, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the total revenue for healthcare travel had increased from RM66mil in 2021 to RM285mil last year.

According to the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council, from 2015 to 2019, the industry grew at a cumulative average growth rate of 17%.

In 2019, Penang received nearly 480,000 medical tourists, generating RM730mil in revenue.

This amounted to nearly 50% of the total revenue for Malaysia from healthcare travel.

Penang Adventist Hospital senior marketing manager Caleb Lim said since borders reopened in April last year, the hospital saw a soaring return of foreign patients, especially from Indonesia, as well as those with backlog cases whose treatments were delayed because of the MCO.

Today, state tourism committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin is expected to announce a new string of Penang-Medan flights.

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