By Alice Hunter
It should not come as any surprise when US publishing group International Living recently named Malaysia as the third-best place to go to for quality yet affordable care.
Malaysia’s affordable and high quality care, accessibility, language proficiency and cultural diversity has over the past decade made it stand out from regional peers like Thailand and Singapore.
“Malaysia has managed to keep its medical costs down, as well as its cost of living,” says Patients Beyond Borders chief executive officer Josef Woodman via e-mail.
Patient Beyond Borders, which publishes medical tourism guidebooks of the same name, has already published a book on Malaysia in 2009. It is going to publish a second edition on Malaysia in September this year for international distribution.
“Singapore’s costs for out-of-pocket care have risen 30% to 45% over the past five years, flattening that country’s rate of regional growth, particularly amongst price-sensitive Indonesian patients, driving Malaysia’s inbound patient numbers to record highs,” Woodman explains.
Malaysia’s tourism and medical travel is also not affected by the political and social unrest that now, unfortunately, continue to plague Thailand, he adds.
According to a presentation made by the International Medical University president and former Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman at the World Health Summit last year, more than 55% of healthcare travellers to Malaysia in 2011 are from Indonesia.
This is followed by India, Japan, United Kingdom and China and Hong Kong at significantly lower numbers.
More recent numbers is not yet available, but industry observers say that this trend has not changed significantly over the past two years.
For English-speaking patients, Woodman says Malaysia is becoming a preferred value destination for the rising number of Australians seeking to avoid long queues for insured specialty procedures and high prices of elective or uninsured procedures.
“With 25% Chinese citizenry and as an officially Muslim country, Malaysia uniquely appeals to a wide range of cultures (e.g. Middle Easterners as well as patients from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and more recently, Singapore),” Woodman says.
From 2009 to 2013, Malaysia has experienced a 129% increase in healthcare travellers and received 770,134 of them last year. This is higher than the 115% increase the country has seen from 2004 to 2008, when Malaysia received 374,063 patients.
The most sought after treatments include procedures in the area of Cardiology, Ear, Nose, and Throat, Gastroenterology, Health Screening, Obstetrics & Gynaecology (including fertility treatments), Orthopaedic, Radiotherapy & Oncology, and Urology, says the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.
Among these include heart bypasses, angioplasty, hip replacements, endoscopies, and deliveries.
A look at the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council’s webpage on medical costs reveals that the costs for such procedures remain relatively affordable compared to countries such as the United States, Singapore and Korea. The costs are also comparable to other medical tourism destinations such as Thailand.
A heart bypass, for instance, would cost between US$9,375 to US$16,250 in Malaysia.
The same procedure would cost about US$144,000 in the United States, US$28,900 in Korea and US$20,000 in Singapore. Those who travel to Thailand for a heart bypass would be able to have the surgery done for US$15,121.
As Malaysia capitalises on its strengths in cultural diversity and delivery of quality affordable care, the healthcare tourism industry is expected to chart healthy growth – especially with the development of more healthcare facilities in economic regions such as Iskandar Malaysia in Johor.
A September 2013 industry report by Euromonitor International projected an average annual growth of 12% for the health and wellness sector in Malaysia as rising living standards is fuelling the demand for more sophisticated and relaxing tourism packages.