Medical tourism’s SOPs get full approval

One of the SOPs requires patients coming in for treatment to undergo isolation and tests


THE Malaysia Healthcare Tourism Council (MHTC) has confirmed that its standard operating procedures (SOPs), which have been in the works for months, has received full approval and is receiving inquiries for medical tourists who require critical treatment.

The SOPs, which has undergone various process and stages of approval for two months, require patients coming in for the country’s medical tourism to undergo isolation and tests.

MHTC had initially targeted RM2 billion in revenue earnings following the RM1.5 billion recorded in 2018, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the council is expecting a 70% drop in revenue and revising to 2012’s numbers.

MHTC CCO Yazmin Azman said the council has begun to open its inbox for enquiries as of yesterday.

“That said, the approved SOPs is quite tight and unfortunately for the first few phases, it’s not going to be as simple as it used to be before Covid-19.

“Phase 1A and 1B will be for patients who require critical care and need medical evacuation while having access to charter flights. In comparison to the phase that most people are looking for, these earlier phases will be open to all countries,” she said at the “How Healthcare Tourism Thrives Virtually in the Covid-19 Era?” webinar yesterday.

She added that the following phase will allow medical tourists to travel via commercially available flights, but restricted to patients coming in from green countries.

“Whereas the earlier phases will excuse patients even coming from red or black zones, Phase 2 will only be available for patients coming in from countries that have confirmed to be green zones.

“During that phase, we will continue to monitor the countries especially in the surrounding region, however, it is most important to watch the balance between patients’ and national security and safety,” she added.

Yazmin said moving forward, the industry has been investing mostly in the branding of medical tourism to nurture trust among patients.

“There’s a lot of positive news on how Malaysia has been dealing with Covid-19, and we are utilising that as part of our marketing baseline while strengthening our digital channels to make people understand that we can be trusted for when medical care is required.

“However, it is unfortunate that we have footprints in various countries including China, but it is precisely the fact that they lack the facilities to care for patients, and even so, the patients are prevented from coming here due to border control,” she said.

She added that the council is looking at policy changes to facilitate the treatment of international medical tourists.

Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur consultant physician and rheumatologist Dr Benjamin Cheah Tien Eang said among the current challenges faced by the medical tourism during the pandemic is the inability to provide more telemedicine.

“I get a lot of emails and telemedicine bookings, one example being from Bangladesh. A lot of regulations and laws that need to be adjusted to enable transboundary pharmacy,” he said.

He said what the pandemic has shown is that the country lacks a Plan B as most of its citizens cannot receive medication from their own country, due to customs and travel limitations.

“I think we need international partnerships to afford better healthcare internationally, we need to have someone on the other side to take up the case if there are complications such as post-surgical wound care. We need someone to trust on the other side as travel sometimes may not be possible,” he said.

Dr Cheah also added that for the industry to thrive, players and stakeholders would need to collaborate instead of competing via understanding strengths and weaknesses and thus, share resources for patients.

He stressed that it is important for the healthcare system to be able to handle any future pandemic similar to Covid-19.

“There will be another pandemic and it’s important that we need to look at our current limitations and work around any future difficulties to be responsive,” he said.