Malaysia has clinched the “Health and Medical Tourism: Destination of the Year” award by the International Medical Travel Journal in 2015 and 2016, boasting a record high of over 860,000 tourists seeking medical treatment last year.

According to Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) CEO Sherene Azli, medical tourism has garnered more than RM1 billion in revenue, which is double that of regular tourists. Indonesia is the biggest client, contributing to 70% of the total revenue last year, with China and India catching up as well.

"This year we are looking at one million medical tourists with about 30% growth in revenue," she says. The government has plans in place, as the aim is to generate RM1.3 billion in revenue.

MHTC to focus on neighbouring countries

MHTC has targeted one million visitors which could account for RM5 billion of the total gross domestic product. It will focus on neighbouring countries and promote Malaysian hospitality and excellent healthcare delivery that is reasonably priced.

To achieve its goal, the council aims to provide targeted services with different packages to countries namely Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Myanmar and India.

“On average, a foreign patient would spend about RM1,000 per visit, not including other expenditures while being in the country,” says Sherene. The 30% increase in medical travellers from China between 2015 and 2016 is encouraging, as these patients used to favour countries like the UK, US, Japan and Korea.

The top five treatments for foreign patients are cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics, IVF and blood-related treatments. Malaysian Industrial Development Finance (MIDF) research equity analyst Athila Razali says that most of these treatments, such as cardiovascular as well as upper and lower gastrointestinal, will cost more overseas compared to Malaysia.

“Malaysia, with rising medical expertise in various healthcare areas, is also seeing an increase in interest in wellness/disease prevention treatments coming from countries with higher spending capacity,” she adds.

Private healthcare providers to play a pivotal role

MIDF believes that the good reputation of Malaysian healthcare system abroad, besides the current currency condition, is a crucial factor that accounts for the influx of medical tourists and makes the country a key player in the region.

The number of foreign patients is expected to escalate, as more private hospitals are now catering for more foreign patients. Private hospitals nationwide currently have an estimated 15,000 beds.

The government is also encouraging the private healthcare players, such as IHH Healthcare and KPJ Healthcare, to have their hospitals MHTC-certified to increase the chances of being the preferred medical tourism destination,” says MIDF analyst Athila.

Prince Court Medical Centre chief executive officer, Chong Yee Mun attributed the surge in medical tourism to its high standard of healthcare which stems from its melting pot of diverse cultures with doctors who are internationally recognised and qualified.

“Malaysia has a wide cross-section of different cultures, races and religions. In addition, ithas a wide range of languages, coupled with international qualifications from UK, US, India and Australia, Malaysia is seen as an ideal location to attract visitors,” says Chong. MIMS

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