Introduction to Medical Tourism
This tourism is a fast growing industry worldwide and involves the movement of people from one country to another country or from one state within a country to another state to seek medical treatments that are either not available in the individuals’ state or country, more advanced in the destination state or country or less costly in the destination state or country.
This article seeks to discuss health tourism, the performance of Malaysian health tourism industry, its development and future. Implications for students will also be discussed.
According to Deloitte Medical Tourism report 2008, this tourism sector was expected to reach an estimated US$ 100 billion as at last year (2010) mainly due to cost savings, comparatively same quality of medical care and quick access to treatments.
It estimated that by 2017, an estimated 15.75 million medical tourists will travel from the United States alone to other countries for medical treatments compared to 750,000 tourists in 2007 according to the same report (Deloitte Medical Tourism Report 2008).
Malaysia is one of the hot spots for health tourism in Southeast Asia.
Overview of Malaysian Tourism
The Malaysian tourism industry is a vibrant one. The Malaysian government through its Ministry of Tourism Malaysia oversees tourism policies and tourism-related activities to realize its vision of making Malaysia an international tourism destination.
According to the 2010 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Report, Malaysia ranked 9th in international tourist arrivals, welcoming 24.6 million visitors through its doors. The impact of these efforts resulted in international tourism receipt of RM 56.5 billion in 2010 (UNWTO n.d.).
Therefore, in order to complement this achievement, the government plans to diversify the portfolio of its tourism industry.
Various tourism products introduced by the Ministry of Tourism include education tourism, sports tourism, rural tourism, agro-tourism, special tourism and medical tourism.
A more elaborate discussion about the Malaysian tourism industry is contained in the article Malaysian tourism.
Performance of Medical Tourism in Malaysia
Medical or Health tourism as it is described in Malaysia is managed by the Ministry of Health. The vision of the Ministry of Health (MOH) is to develop Malaysia into the preferred destination of world class health services.
However, the progress of health tourism as in other important sectors begins from the governments policies on health-related issues.
One of the first steps was the setting up of Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) under the MOH for the promotion of health tourism in 2009.
This was borne out of the focus of the Ninth Malaysia plan (2006 - 2010) – a plan that aims to position Malaysia as a developed country by 2020.
Thus, the council developed partnerships with the private sector to complement government’s efforts in developing the health sector.
Various private and government hospitals are invited and listed to participate in the health tourism program after satisfying the MOH criteria.
For example, MOH criteria requires that hospitals must be licensed under the private healthcare facilities and services Act 1998 and have a valid accreditation awarded by National or International body recognized by the International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua).
The list of the participating hospitals and detailed criteria is posted on the MOH website.
The number of specialist hospitals and clinics has increased in Malaysia offering a great variety of treatments including cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, dialysis and Nephrology, fertility treatments and specialized medical packages for men and women just to mention a few.
These have resulted in increasing visitors arriving Malaysia for treatments. According to Deloitte Medical Tourism report 2008, healthcare cost can be as low as 25% of cost of equivalent treatment in the United States of America.
Other favorable enablers for health tourism in Malaysia include favorable exchange rates, multicultural and multiracial society, wide range of tourist attractions and world-class practitioners with high success rates.
Additional strategy that makes Malaysian health tourism attractive includes the visa extension provision for a health tourist for up to six months.
Future of Malaysian Health tourism and implications for students
As Malaysia approaches its vision of becoming a developed country by 2020, health tourism is considered a major driver towards this goal.
Medical tourists are observed to increase steadily in Malaysia due to the governments’ promotion of Malaysia as an international healthcare destination resulting in increased revenues for the country.
Furthermore, these conditions have encouraged private, local and international participation in Malaysia’s health tourism sector.
Moreover, hotels and resorts have allied with hospitals to develop special health check and health tourism related packages to encourage international clients and governments to visit Malaysia.
Therefore, the Malaysia health tourism sector is poised for increased growth.
This has huge implication for students of various disciplines such as medicine, nursing, hospitality and tourism management and other medical-related fields.
With reduced cost of healthcare in Malaysia, increased competence in medical expertise and infrastructure and extended visa duration for medical tourist, the students can only expect increased opportunities to practically demonstrate mastery of their skills after graduation.
Therefore, students interested in the demanding health tourism industry will focus on developing additional skills sets more than a passing grade that will provide the distinction to ensure a place in the increasing Malaysian health tourism industry.
However, the lack of visible, quality and updated data of medical tourists in Malaysian hospitals remains a challenge.
Unavailability of such data inhibits good planning for the future, allows for inefficient organization of scarce resources, discourages research and mitigate proper control of the industry.
Hence, a key recommendation would be for the authorities to develop a system that provides a more consistent, visible, real time data of medical tourists where such data can be incorporated into the future planning of the health tourism sector.
This article investigated Malaysian health tourism considering its performance, future and implications for students.
It was found that the Malaysian health tourism sector is regulated, supported and promoted by the government providing suitable conditions for the industry to thrive.
Improved infrastructure, developed medical expertise and extended visa provisions were some of the key factors identified that fuels the growth of this sector.
This success has huge implications for students of various fields demanding mastery of skill sets that will satisfy the expanding sector.
Finally, it was observed that there is an alarming lack of quality, visible, updated and consistent data of medical tourists in Malaysian hospitals which can be a serious limiter in the long run to all the efforts currently expended to build the sector.
Hence, it was recommended that a system of quality, real time data gathering and dissemination be made available and more visible to encourage adequate management, planning and research into the sector.
Deloitte Development LLC 2008, Deloitte Medical Tourism, Deloitte Development LLC, USA.
Ministry of Tourism Malaysia 2011, Ministry programmes, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, Malaysia.
Ministry of Health Malaysia 2010, Why Malaysia, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Malaysia.
United Nations World Tourism Organization n.d., Tourism highlights, United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2011 edition.
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