The medical tourism business generated close to RM1.7b in 2019, partly attributed to the country’s favourable geographical location
by S BIRRUNTHA
MALAYSIA is increasingly recognised as a world-leading destination for medical and healthcare tourism, seeing its business revenue nearly triple in less than a decade.
From a sales receipt of approximately RM572 million in 2011, the medical tourism business generated close to RM1.7 billion in 2019, partly attributed to the country’s favourable geographical location.
Currently, Malaysia is ranked among the top medical tourism destinations in Asia, alongside India, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.
Association of Private Hospitals (APHM) president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said Malaysia is one of the best in South-East Asia in terms of cost and high standard of healthcare.
“More tourists from Indonesia particularly pick Malaysia as their medical destination. Medical tourism also brings in a lot of revenue to other sectors like hotels and tourist attractions,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.
In terms of improving Malaysia’s medical tourism sector, Dr Kuljit suggested for the government to encourage private hospitals which actively treat medical tourists with the likes of tax incentives.
He also noted that the proposal of increasing the GDP on healthcare to 5% should be done under Budget 2023, as the current expenditure on healthcare is not viable anymore.
He added that a huge burden to the government is currently managed by the private hospitals in managing patients with financial resources and that private healthcare also further contributes to the country’s income through international medical tourism.
“Private hospitals have close to 50 years of experience and would be happy to guide government hospitals in the process of being autonomous and ‘self-sustaining’ as suggested by the Health Ministry.
“Our partnership will not be just confined to treating patients but also in other technical and knowledge sharing of healthcare delivery,” he said.
Echoing similar views, Osel Group chief clinical and innovative scientist Dr Kris See said in Malaysia, medical tourism is a key contributor to long-term economic development.
He highlighted that medical therapies are growing as a tourist branch, generating a variety of revenue streams in the country.
Citing data from the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) and the Universiti Sains Malaysia, he said Malaysia has a total of 88 approved hospitals, eight of which are Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited.
“Malaysia provides a rare combination of high-quality, low-cost healthcare, and an appealing vacation destination for health-conscious travellers.
“Travellers to Malaysia can have their health checked and use facilities such as preventive wellness, spas, cosmetic and dental surgery, among others,” he said to TMR.
Dr See said the majority of the foreign patients seeking medical treatments in Malaysia are from Indonesia, with smaller numbers of foreign patients coming from India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Europe, the US and the Middle East.
He added that in 2008, Indonesians comprised 75% of all foreign patients receiving care in Malaysia, followed by Europeans (3%), Japanese (3%), Singaporeans (1%) and citizens from Middle Eastern countries (1%).
By 2011, he noted that Indonesians comprised 57% of all foreign patients in Malaysia while the number of patients of other nationalities also grew.
Additionally, Dr See highlighted that health insurance companies in Singapore have recently permitted their policyholders to be treated in Malaysia where services are cheaper.
“Therefore, healthcare remains an attractive portfolio that Malaysia harnesses,” he said.
If Malaysia plays its strategy right, Dr See opined, its country could take advantage of the increased health awareness during this critical time and promote Malaysia as a hub for medical tourism in Asean.
He added that the government’s investment tax allowance has encouraged private healthcare facilities promoting medical tourism to invest in internationally recognised accreditation schemes
and medical equipment to developing “world-class”, technology-intensive private health care facilities and ensure care standards considered necessary to attract medical tourists.
As such, he concurred that further incentives and tax allowances could be considered in this area.
On top of that, Dr See said the MHTC, as the primary agency to promote and develop the country’s medical tourism industry, should continue to aggressively promote both online and offline campaigns about what Malaysia could offer in medical tourism.
“With Covid-19 infection reaching a stable plateau, our government agencies should come together and consider removing the mask mandate, except in high-risk situations, something which our neighbours, such as Singapore and Thailand, both medical tourism destinations themselves have done.
“The government could also consider allowing tax breaks or extra incentives for medical tourists in the event they contracted Covid-19 infection during their travel or treatment,” he said.
Furthermore, he suggested that the government and the related agencies should aggressively promote creating experiences, rather sight spots with the country’s tourism council.
With over 1.22 million healthcare travellers choosing Malaysia in 2019, the country’s value proposition of quality, accessibility and affordability continues to be relevant to health seekers regionally and globally, according to the MHTC.
In its Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025, the council noted that the country’s healthcare travel industry enjoyed consistent double-digit growth between 2015 and 2019, with a compounded annual growth rate of 16.3% in the same period.
The industry also earned international accolades and recognition from reputable bodies and has showcased its excellence through accreditations.
MHTC expects the medical tourism industry to continue growing, with a projected annual revenue of RM2 billion in 2025.
Nevertheless, the council said due to the border closures and compounded impact of Covid-19, Malaysia’s healthcare travel revenues saw a sharp decline, with the biggest impact felt in the second half of 2020 and beyond.
However, the full impact has been mitigated slightly by continued healthcare spending by foreign patients including expatriates and Malaysia My Second Home holders residing in Malaysia.
Looking ahead, MHTC said for the industry to move to the next level, collaborative and cohesive efforts with stakeholders across all touchpoints in the healthcare travel ecosystem are key to driving the industry forward.
“Due to intense competition and the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare travel industry, it is important for all stakeholders to work together to revive the country’s healthcare industry for the next five years.
“This includes focusing in areas such as strengthening the healthcare traveller ecosystem, amplifying Malaysia’s healthcare brand and sustaining, as well as expanding the healthcare travel market,” it said.
MHTC noted that ultimately, the goal is for all players throughout the value chain and industry to showcase the “Best Malaysia Healthcare Travel Experience” by 2025.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition