The dynamic landscape of healthcare tourism

Malaysia’s appeal lies in its strictly regulated world-class quality healthcare, easy accessibility, competitive affordability, ease of communication and hospitality 


THE future of Malaysia’s healthcare travel (also known as medical tourism) industry looks promising, drawing international patients seeking affordable world-class medical services. 

The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) welcomed the recent allocation of RM41.2 billion for the healthcare sector in the 2024 budget, a significant increase from the previous year. 

“This budget boost reflects the industry’s positive growth,” MHTC CEO Dr Mohamed Ali Abu Bakar commented. 

According to a report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Malaysia’s healthcare travel services export reached RM1.3 billion in 2022, outperforming global and Asia-Pacific tourism recovery rates. 

Malaysia’s healthcare travel industry has been resilient, with a revenue of RM1.4 billion recorded as of August 2023, contributing significantly to the country’s economy. 

To further develop the healthcare travel industry, Dr Mohamed Ali said MHTC focuses on three key areas outlined in the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint, namely the Healthcare Travel Ecosystem, Malaysia Healthcare Brand and Markets. 

A key initiative under the Healthcare Travel Ecosystem is the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme, aimed at positioning Malaysia as a global leader in healthcare travel. 

“Partnerships with IQVIA (formerly Quintiles and IMS Health, Inc) and the Joint Commission International (JCI) contribute to delivering outstanding patient experiences and medical excellence by 2025,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

In April 2023, finalists for the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme were announced, including Institut Jantung Negara (IJN), Kuala Lumpur; Island Hospital, Penang; Mahkota Medical Centre, Melaka; and Subang Jaya Medical Centre, Selangor. 

Healthcare travellers are attracted to cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang, Malacca and Johor Baru due to easy connectivity and top-notch medical care. 

“We will also be working with state tourism bodies to strengthen healthcare travel offerings in regions such as Sabah and Sarawak,” Dr Mohamed Ali said. 

The Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme’s impact extends beyond the individual finalists, catalysing economic growth and creating new opportunities for locals. Malaysia’s healthcare travel industry experienced an annual growth rate of 16% before the pandemic, offering both curative and preventive care. 

According to MHTC’s data, popular treatments include cardiology, fertility, oncology, orthopaedics, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, urology, neurology, aesthetics, health screening, premium wellness, and dental treatments. 

Dr Mohamed Ali says medical tourists find that there is ease of communication as Malaysians are mostly bilingual

Rising Popularity 

Malaysia’s appeal as a healthcare destination lies in its strictly regulated world-class quality healthcare, easy accessibility, competitive affordability, ease of communication and hospitality. 

MHTC’s list of services include the Malaysia Healthcare Concierge and Lounge, Medical Companion Service, Dedicated Immigration Lane, eVisa (Medical), MHTC Representatives Worldwide, and the One-Stop-Centre (OSP). 

Malaysia has gained popularity as a safe and trusted healthcare destination owing to its easy accessibility and short waiting times, as it has almost immediate access to medical specialists. Also, the country is well-connected through most major airlines, making it easy for anyone from across the globe to come. 

Another plus point is that current healthcare treatments are regulated by the Medical Fee Schedule, giving the industry competitive affordability. 

Dr Mohamed Ali also pointed out that medical tourists find that there is ease of communication as Malaysians are mostly bilingual, while interpreters or translators are easily arranged. 

Malaysia has gained notable recognition for niche treatments, including being the Cardiology Hub of Asia, Fertility Hub of Asia, Cancer Care Centre of Excellence and Premium Health Screening destination. 

To paint a clearer picture of becoming the Fertility Hub of Asia, Dr Mohamed Ali shared that Malaysian healthcare boasts of an average success rate of 65% for fertility treatments, surpassing the global average of 55%. 

“We also have high success rates for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments, with 50% to 83% success rates for those below 40 years old, and for those aged above 40, the rates are 50% to 68%,” he said. 

On Cancer Care Centre of Excellence, he said currently there are 128 medical and clinical oncologists and over 30 institutions available to provide care for patients. 

Dr Kuljit says we hope that in the future, the govt could give more incentive for hospitals to attract more medical tourists

Incentives for Medical Tourists Needed

The country is known for its medical experts, advanced technology and facilities, and international awards and recognition, as attested by Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh. 

“We don’t need to add anything because at this point, almost everything can be done at private hospitals seamlessly,” he reiterated. 

While the Budget 2024 announcement did not mention specific tax incentives or financial support for healthcare tourism, Dr Kuljit said for private hospitals, there are some incentives albeit limited to hospitals that specifically welcome medical tourists. 

“There’s not much effort from the government to encourage tax incentives for medical tourists. We hope that in the future, the government could make some adjustments to give more incentive for hospitals to attract more medical tourists.” 

He opined that apart from medical treatment, the incentives could also cover other expenditures for the patients such as hotels, transportation or airlines and other hospitality services available in Malaysia. 

The future of healthcare travel in Malaysia remains promising, driven by its dedication to affordability, high-quality healthcare, cutting-edge facilities and holistic well-being. Malaysia continues to grow as a top medical tourism destination, providing quality care for international patients.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition