About 483,000 Chinese citizens travelled outbound for medical tourism in 2015, and this trend is set to continue – with the projected figure to surpass 800,000 in 2020. The rapid rise is driven by medical and lifestyle problems associated with an ageing population, as well as rising affluent in the Chinese population which would result in greater spending power.

According to Global Growth Markets, the number of Chinese medical tourists is estimated to be increasing at 31% annually since 2012. That having said, hospitals – especially those already attracting medical tourists – are expected to continue to see a growing number of patients from China.

With the healthcare system already being overburdened, affluent Chinese patients see ‘brighter’ hope overseas. In addition, some do find it simply too risky or less efficient to undertake medical procedures in the country. Furthermore, certain medical services may not be available at all or a particular treatment is offered in limited hospitals found overseas only.

Middlemen pave way for patients seeking outbound medical treatment

Seeking medical treatment in a foreign land would not come easy, as patients could encounter problems such as language barriers and the hassle of securing a translator, searching for the right doctor for the specific medical condition, looking for a trusted and an accredited hospital and even the insecurity due to the unfamiliar setting of being in another country.

While some medical tourists are comfortable managing the whole process from beginning to completion, there has been a growing demand for ‘agents’ acting as middlemen for those willing to pay for such a service.

Two such companies in Beijing are Hope Noah Company and Saint Lucia company, which provide an all-in-one service that includes booking of medical appointments, translating of medical records, applying for visas, arranging for airport pick-up, providing accommodation and accompanying the patient during clinic visits. Clients are mainly patients with serious conditions like cancer or heart disease and such a seamless service ensures that the patient is well-taken care of throughout the medical journey.

Top countries favoured by Chinese medical tourists

Distance would not be an issue for cash-rich patients, as they can travel to anywhere as long as they get the best possible medical treatment. Property website Juwai.com quoted South China Morning Post which listed the US and Europe as top countries favoured by the super-wealthy, while Singapore, Thailand and South Korea are preferred by middle-class Chinese.

Certain countries are also emerging as destinations for certain procedures. One example is Switzerland, where the wealthy prefer to go for anti-ageing stem cell therapy. Also standing out from the rest are Japan and Germany, the only two countries that offer cutting-edge heavy ion radiotherapy for cancer patients.

Challenges and benefits

With many hospitals now extending their reach and welcoming patients from around the globe, language and cultural barriers still remain. While translators and representatives from intermediary companies can help patients to adapt, medical tourists would have a certain set of expectations from what they hope to gain during their stay in the hospital. With the willingness to spend more, they seek the best possible medical outcomes not available back at home.

Nevertheless, it is a win-win situation for both sides. For hospitals, serving patients from around the globe can help build their reputation internationally and hence gain more revenue. As for patients, they get to access the latest health treatment with top-notch efficient services.

Every patient is different

Healthcare providers and intermediaries are making it easier for patients to have better access to well-known medical facilities. Regardless of where the patients come from, healthcare professionals need to understand the realities of language differences and cultural norms. They must also keep in mind that each patient is different. MIMS

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