Medical tourism is a rapidly growing phenomenon in today’s world. People from developed and developing countries are seeking low cost and extremely good quality medical treatment in Asian countries, from discreet nips and tucks to major surgery, medical tourism spans a wide range of treatments. Combine a holiday with an executive check-up, or surgery. Asia offers high quality, world-standard medical treatment at only 20 percent of the cost of treatment in the USA and the UK.
Several hospitals in Asia have carved such outstanding reputations for themselves that medical tourism has become a major money-spinner. The quality of treatment here is of world-class standard with many of the doctors holding western qualifications. In countries such as Singapore and Thailand, government agencies have been set up to help market their expertise globally. Special medical travel agencies have sprung up around the world, and top Asian hospitals routinely have special “international” desks and services to assist overseas patients with everything from doctors’ appointments to accommodation.
For many medical tourists, though, the real attraction is price. The cost of surgery in Thailand can be one-tenth of what it is in the United States or Western Europe, and sometimes even less. A heart-valve replacement that would cost $200,000 or more in the U.S., for example, goes for fraction of that price in Thailand and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package. Similarly, a metal-free dental bridge worth $5,500 in the U.S. costs $750 in Thailand, a knee replacement in Thailand with six days of physical therapy costs about one-fifth of what it would in the States, and Lasik eye surgery worth $3,700 in the U.S. is available in Thailand for only $1650. Cosmetic surgery savings are even greater: A full facelift that would cost $20,000 in the U.S. runs about $7500 in Thailand.
If you have been nipping and tucking all over the place. The price of beauty has always been very high, financially of course, but there was also a high moral price to pay when heavy stigmas were attached to plastic surgery. However, in the past few years the stigmas have been removed. Not only has it become chic to be nipped and tucked, sutured and implanted, it has, to some extent become necessary.
There has been a surge in popularity for cosmetic surgery in Asia. Men are now seeking out ways to cheat Mother Nature by re-obtaining their youth through cosmetic surgery. Popular procedures include: Botox injections, liposuction and anti-aging collagens. Experts point out that many of the businessmen feel that cosmetic surgeries are necessary in industries where looking young is a high commodity.
An increase in “medical tourism” means more and more people from western world are seeking healthcare in more budget-friendly countries.
THAILAND MEDICAL TOURISM
In Thailand, every year, the award-winning Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, treats 1.2 million patients from over 190 countries. Procedures included everything from comprehensive checkups and cardiac surgery to cancer treatment and cosmetic enhancements. Patients hail from all over – from the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam to Australia and the United States. Almost 50 percent of the business is from overseas. Bumrungrad Hospital in Bankok is the most popular hospital destination for the world’s medical tourists.
According to reports, an elective coronary artery bypass operation that would typically cost US$60,000 in the USA, was priced at roughly around US$15,000 at Bumrungrad. In 2010, a regular colonoscopy at Bumrungdrad Hospital was priced at around US$400, almost three or four times cheaper than in Hong Kong.
One of the factors contributing to low prices in Thailand is the lower cost of living. There are also major differences in how the medical system operates in general. US doctors pay an ultra-premium cost for malpractice insurance, whereas Thailand doctors pay only about USUS$5,000 annually. Another factor is that 75% of foreign patients in Thailand pay in cash, so there is less cost processing insurance claims. . Dental care in Thailand costs about 85% less than the USA and 50-75% less than Mexico.
SINGAPORE MEDICAL TOURISM
Singapore is another major player in the Asian medical tourism market – hardly surprising, given the city state’s reputation for sophisticated facilities and advanced technology, not to mention safety and efficiency. Critics say costs are 30 to 50 percent higher than those in Thailand, but even so they remain appreciably lower than in the US and the UK.
The small state of Singapore is is well-known for its very stringent laws and regulations particularly in the areas involving cleanliness. These regulations are carried over to Singapore’s ultra-high quality levels in healthcare and world-class facilities, making it an ideal destination for medical travelers who are looking for modern infrastructure, a clean and structured environment, and an English-speaking populace.
HOLIDAYS AND SURGERY IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is also starting to cash in, with an official Philippine Medical Tourism Program running in cooperation with the Department of Tourism. At this point, international patients to the Philippines come mainly from around Asia, Micronesia and the Middle East, but the government, which staged its first Philippine Medical Tourism Congress in November 2006 in Manila, is also hoping to attract patients from countries as far as the US.
A number of healthcare facilities are participating in the Philippines program, but so far St Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City is the government’s only “full medical tourism partner”. Like Bumrungrad in Thailand, St Luke’s is accredited by the US Joint Commission International (JCI). Jose Ledesma, the president and CEO of St Lukes, has said that the hospital’s “latest and most advanced medical equipment” made it “better equipped than 95 percent of hospitals in the US”. Medical specialties include cardiovascular medicine, neurology and neurosurgery, cancer, ophthalmology, and digestive and liver diseases.
MALAYSIA MEDICAL TOURISM
At the forefront of medical tourism in Malaysia is the state of Penang, where the state government is actively promoting its private healthcare facilities for cosmetic surgery and other medical treatments. Hospitals drawing international patients include the Gleneagles Medical Centre with its own foreign patients service and a range of services and packages (a standard executive health screening test including examination, electrocardiogram, chest X-ray and blood and other tests run at around RM455). The 258-bed Penang Adventist Hospital is a private hospital that is part of an international network of more than 500 facilities and claims to be the first private hospital in northern Malaysia to have performed procedures such as coronary bypass and laser heart surgery.
Another Penang hospital that has established an international reputation in southeast Asia is the modern Island Hospital which, apart from the usual facilities, also has a heart centre, urology centre, fertility centre and laser vision-correction centre. A standard executive screening program here costs RM280 and a premier program RM600. While some US and other Western health travelers are starting to take advantage of Malaysian medical care facilities, the main market it still other countries in Southeast Asia and nationals from the Middle East.