Malaysia: An Emerging Global Giant in Medical Tourism

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From 643,000 medical tourist arrivals in 2011 to over 1.2 million in 2018, Malaysia has grown its health tourism industry to become a leading global destination for international patients in Asia and beyond. From a revenue of USD 127 million in 2011, the medical tourism business generated over $362 million from the market in 2018. 


What is the secret to the phenomenal growth in Malaysia? Recent analyses suggest that there is solid governmental participation in the market and formidable public-private healthcare collaboration. The secret lies in the creation of an agency - the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) - saddled with the responsibility of promoting Malaysia as a medical tourism destination by revamping its international healthcare brand. 


Malaysia: Actively Expanding its Market Base in Medical Tourism


The MHTC, an agency under the country’s Ministry of Finance, is actively expanding the country’s medical tourism market base, targeting more international patients. While the main sources of medical tourism arrivals to the country are the United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, China, India, and the United States, the MHTC is actively looking to set up strong market ties with the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and countries in the Middle East. 


The MHTC is promoting its 79 hospitals to Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei, and Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. 


In addition to promoting its healthcare brand to other countries, the efforts of the council at boosting healthcare quality, affordability, and superior patient experience have led to a compound annual growth rate of 16 to 17 percent over the last five years. This is ahead of the global average of 10-12 percent and the Asia-Pacific’s average of 12-14 percent. 


The MHTC estimates that by 2020, more than two million international patients would visit Malaysia, doubling its revenue to approximately USD 680 million. 


Malaysia is now in strong competition with the giants of the ASEAN medical tourism industry; Thailand and Singapore. Slowly overtaking Singapore as a medical tourism destination despite the greater availability of cutting-edge technology and skilled professionals in Singapore, Malaysia still has Thailand as its strong competitor. Only in 2017, Thailand recorded more than 2 million medical tourist arrivals into the country.


Excellence in Cardiovascular Care and IVF


To compete with world-class hospitals and medical centers across Asia and beyond, Malaysia is carving a niche in cardiology and fertility treatments, with more than 33 advanced heart treatment centers in the country, including its renowned National Heart Institute. Its fertility centers also boast of success rates that are well ahead of the global average.  


The National Heart Institute remains a leader in cardiovascular disease diagnosis and treatment in Asia. It is the national referral center for cardiovascular diseases and it provides world-class care for simple and complex heart diseases. The National Heart Institute is harnessing its position in the Malaysian medical tourism market by collaborating with medical centers of excellence across the world including the Royal Papworth Hospital, the leading heart and lung treatment center in the UK, Hanoi Heart Center in Vietnam, and the University of Australia, Adelaide. 


According to MHTC officials, the institute is equipped with Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies to enhance diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases. With advanced procedural techniques such as multi-slice computed tomography, endoscopic vein harvesting, and heart-assist devices, Malaysia is projecting its excellence in cardiac care on the global healthcare stage. 


Furthermore, to serve the growing number of medical tourists who seek advanced care for cardiovascular diseases more efficiently, the National Health Institute has established its International Patient Center (IPC). The IPC offers services to boost patient experience from departure to arrival. These services include visa and immigration services, pre-departure and post-treatment coordination, transfer of health data, and insurance claims.


The institute has expanded its frontiers into other parts of Asia, with liaison offices in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia.


Building Partnerships to Promote the Malaysian Health Travel Brand


Furthermore, the MHTC recently partnered with Air Asia Indonesia to promote Penang as Malaysia’s top destination for medical tourism, with Air Asia as the official airline for direct travel. According to the CEO of MHTC, Penang receives approximately 60 percent of medical tourist arrivals, with the state generating more than USD 120 million from medical tourism in 2017. This partnership hopes to expand the medical tourism market in Penang. 


Through the partnership, MHTC will arrange medical trips, including airport pickups, for patients traveling from Indonesia to Malaysia. Furthermore, Air Asia will also offer flight discounts for medical travel coordinated by the MHTC. 


Public-private partnerships are also one of the core factors responsible for the growth of medical tourism in Malaysia. For example, Sunway Medical Center, one of the largest private hospitals in Malaysia is at the forefront of promoting Malaysia’s position as a choice medical tourism destination. 


Sunway Medical Center provides cutting-edge diagnostic and therapeutic modalities across more than 60 specialties. With an international accreditation by the Australian Council of Healthcare Standards (ACHS), Sunway Medical Center has been recognized for its commitment to deliver the highest quality of medical care in Malaysia. 


The center prides itself for top-notch quality in cancer treatment. Recently, it was approved as a Designated Centre of Integrated Oncology and Palliative Care by the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). 


The center also boosts its patient experience through its International Patient Centre, which offers online flight booking assistance, free airport transport, and visa extension to clients. The International Patient center also provides translators and interpreters in Arabic, Mandarin, Indonesia, and Japanese for patients who speak those languages. 


For its commitment to excellent medical care, Sunway Medical Centre was awarded the 2018 Medical Tourism of the Year in the Asia Pacific by the Global Health & Travel Awards. 


Malaysia is building many more centers of excellence like these and harnessing advanced technology to deliver world-class health care. With this phenomenal progress made in the medical travel landscape in Malaysia, the country is on the verge of setting itself apart as a destination of choice for healthcare travels.