In the Mar­ket for Medicine

Asian Geographic - - On Assignment - Cour­tesy of


abroad to seek health­care is cer­tainly not new. For cen­turies, peo­ple have trav­elled far and wide in search of cures and heal­ing. In the past decade, the phrase was coined as some­thing of a sec­tor “buzz­word”. Un­til re­cently, med­i­cal tourism has been largely re­served for the af­flu­ent from less­de­vel­oped coun­tries, who have jour­neyed to de­vel­oped coun­tries such as Sin­ga­pore to seek out bet­ter treat­ment and pa­tient care.

Sin­ga­pore re­mains the top dog in med­i­cal tourism in Asia, ac­cord­ing to data from a med­i­cal tourism in­dex re­leased in May this year, rank­ing Sin­ga­pore as the most at­trac­tive among seven Asian coun­tries for “pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence”. But – it scored low for its high med­i­cal costs.

It is of lit­tle sur­prise, then, that other Asian coun­tries are hot on the is­land state’s heels for a piece of what is an in­creas­ingly lu­cra­tive pie. Health­care in­fra­struc­ture in sev­eral de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in Asia has im­proved in leaps and bounds in re­cent years, pro­vid­ing more af­ford­able health­care compared to that of de­vel­oped na­tions. As such, the re­verse is now on trend: Med­i­cal tourism is no longer

re­served for the elite; many peo­ple are trav­el­ling to de­vel­op­ing na­tions to re­ceive med­i­cal care, at­tracted by lower costs – and In­dia and Thai­land are coun­tries to watch.

Thai­land has an es­tab­lished rep­u­ta­tion for at­ten­tive ser­vice, and so it is lit­tle won­der that Bangkok has be­come one of the es­tab­lished med­i­cal tourism hubs in Asia – par­tic­u­larly given cheaper accommodation costs when compared to Sin­ga­pore, and other big med­i­cal tourism play­ers, such as the United Arab Emi­rates. The Tourism Author­ity of Thai­land (TAT) be­gan pro­mot­ing med­i­cal tourism in 2004, with a de­tailed med­i­cal tourism web­site that lists a host of pop­u­lar treat­ments avail­able, rang­ing from dental work to der­ma­tol­ogy and cos­metic surgery.

A 2016 re­port by the Ox­ford Busi­ness Group revealed that med­i­cal tourism in Thai­land main­tained its record of growth, with foreign pa­tient num­bers up 10.2 per­cent year-on-year, rep­re­sent­ing six per­cent of ar­rivals in 2015. It is es­ti­mated that the in­come from med­i­cal tourism com­prises 0.4 per­cent of the na­tional GDP.

In Au­gust this year, TAT or­gan­ised the “Amaz­ing Thai­land Health and Wellness Tourism Show­case 2017”, un­der the con­cept “Thai­land: A Paradise for Longevity”. Thai­land now has 58 Joint Com­mis­sion In­ter­na­tional ( Jci)-ac­cred­ited hos­pi­tals – more than any other South­east Asian coun­try. The Thai govern­ment re­cently in­tro­duced new poli­cies that ex­tend the vis­i­tor stay pe­riod to 90 days (for se­lect coun­tries), to ac­com­mo­date the in­creas­ing num­ber of med­i­cal tourists.

In­dia is an­other boom­ing med­i­cal hub. Many In­dian doc­tors are re­turn­ing home from abroad, fol­low­ing a med­i­cal “brain drain” in pre­vi­ous decades. Once drawn to the US and Europe to in­crease their earn­ings, the cur­rent tight­en­ing of the UK’S NHS bud­gets and US health­care reg­u­la­tions is mo­ti­vat­ing many In­dian health pro­fes­sion­als to re­turn – armed with a wealth of over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence.

Chen­nai is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a surge in the num­ber of cor­po­rate hos­pi­tals. In In­dia more gen­er­ally, the med­i­cal tourism industry is es­ti­mated to have seen more than 20-per­cent an­nual growth be­tween 2013 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by mar­ket re­search firm RNCOS.

As of 2015, In­dia’s med­i­cal tourism sec­tor was es­ti­mated to be val­ued at USD3 bil­lion, with pro­jected growth to be­tween USD7 to 8 bil­lion by 2020. The coun­try also at­tracts huge num­bers of vis­i­tors for al­ter­na­tive treat­ment op­tions, such as yoga and Ayurvedic medicine.

The com­bi­na­tion of lower costs, im­proved health­care fa­cil­i­ties and a high stan­dard of med­i­cal ex­per­tise is po­si­tion­ing In­dia and Thai­land as med­i­cal tourism lead­ers – giv­ing the more es­tab­lished med­i­cal tourism hubs a run for their money. ag

Med­i­cal tourism is no longer re­served for the elite; many peo­ple are trav­el­ling to de­vel­op­ing na­tions to re­ceive med­i­cal care

Satoyama Jujo

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