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Healthcare Travel Exhibition and Congress: Medical tourism to Asia growing

With high healthcare standards and a complex and costly system at home, some patients, particularly those from the UK and U.S., have taken to traveling internationally, especially to Asia, to satisfy their medical needs. Experts speaking at the Healthcare Travel Exhibition and Congress in Singapore (28 – 30 June 2009) predicted that this growth in medical tourism will continue, from its current gross revenue of $56 billion annually to $100 billion by 2012.

“Buoyed by the success stories of earlier waves of medical tourists, consumers, insurance companies as well businesses fully recognize the reliability and affordability of going overseas for medical procedures,” said Andrew Keable, divisional director of Informa Life Sciences. “Patients who choose to undergo treatments in Asia can pay just 10 percent of the cost of comparable treatment conducted in developed countries like the United States or United Kingdom. This differential cost, coupled with today’s sophisticated travel industry, provides an excellent catalyst to the growth of medical tourism.”

The focus on medical tourism extends across the continent; hospitals in Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Singapore have recently stepped up their medical technologies and resources so as to stay competitive in this growing sector.
The exhibition, hosted by Singapore’s Fairmont Hotel, has brought together leaders from the healthcare and tourism industries. Topics to be covered include healthcare insurance trends in Asia, legal liabilities in global medical travel and health insurance risk management for new markets.

Medical Destinations
Some of the major players in this niche in Asia are India, Singapore, Thailand, South-Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The India Tourist Board reports that approximately 500,000 medical tourists go to Asia annually. Of this number, India receives 200,000. Medical tourism to India has been growing at 30 percent a year for the past three years, and experts estimate that, by 2012, medical tourism will be a $1 billion industry in India. Presently, the lion’s share of medical tourists traveling to India come from the Middle East, although the U.S. accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the total. It’s clear that it’s a cost-driven decision for many patients. For example, heart surgery can cost $60,000 in the U.S., but might cost $8,000 in India. When you add travel for two, and perhaps a recuperative or holiday stay, you’re still paying a fraction of what the cost would be in the U.S.

According to the Singapore Tourism Board, the number of international patients traveling to Singapore for medical care is increasing by about 20 percent each year. Based on exit surveys conducted of international visitors to Singapore in 2006, 410,000 visitors traveled to Singapore specifically for healthcare. Blue Cross Blue Shield recently inked a deal with Singaporean company Parkway Health, which owns three first-class hospitals in Singapore. Through this deal, American patients will have access to pre-negotiated, in-network rates that are dramatically lower than those typically charged at hospitals in the U.S. There is increasing interest for U.S. healthcare insurance providers to evaluate lower-cost options overseas as alternative healthcare services. It is estimated that $200 billion of U.S. healthcare can be exported. “Medical travel is more than just normal tourism with a sprinkling of healthcare,” says Dr. Jason Yap, director of healthcare services for the Singapore Tourism Board. “The stakes are higher and unwary patients can get hurt.” Yap notes that it’s obvious that the choice of doctor or facility is important, but there are other factors to consider. “Agents should also think beyond the healthcare component, as there are cases of patients with excellent clinical results having memorable trips for the wrong reasons—their companion being mugged, or they’re shocked at the poverty and squalor of some countries.” Yap points to Singapore as a country that gets medical travel right. “Singapore’s clinical services are excellent, built up through decades of strong economic growth and careful health manpower and services development, with many international accolades, including being ranked the best healthcare system in Asia,” says Yap. “Singapore is open, convenient to get to, safe and secure, and a great leisure destination in its own right.”

“Thailand offers tremendous value for money spent, and the facilities and doctors are some of the best in the world,” says Santi Chudintra, director Western USA, Central and South America, Tourism Authority of Thailand. Chudintra advises patients to be sure to allow sufficient recovery time based on the severity of the procedure being done before planning to continue on vacation or fly back home. “Travel agents are the facilitators for getting medical work done, but they are not involved with medical decisions or procedures,” says Chudintra. “For more serious operations, there should be a doctor here in the U.S. that will work as a liaison with the Thai doctors.”

“The medical field in Korea is highly advanced and is considered on-par with leading medical facilities in the U.S.,” says Jennifer Goger, marketing coordinator, Korean Tourism Organization–Los Angeles. Goger recommends that agents take fam trips to medical facilities so they can acquire firsthand experience with the facility. “The Korean Tourism Organization is currently working with travel agents and tour operators to promote groups of medical tourists within the Korean community with hopes of expanding these efforts,” she says. Recently, a group of medical tourists traveled to Inha University Hospital and Arumdaun Nara Beauty Clinic to experience pioneer medical tourism programs for mainstream U.S. travelers.


This article is quoted from the Tourism ROI Newsletter published on 2009-07.01.
The article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.

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