Asia has long been a top tourist destination for its sunny beaches, warm climates and exotic culture. But in recent years, the number of people travelling to Asia for medical procedures has increased dramatically. There are many compelling reasons why people the world over are seeking medical attention abroad. President of the Medical Tourism Association, Renée-Marie Stephano, says, “For US patients, they tend to travel abroad in search of a value in pricing for the treatments and procedures they need. Also, in many cases there may be options that are not FDA approved so they seek out options where they can receive this procedure. For Canadians, long waiting periods for treatment force them to seek treatment abroad.” Other reasons may include a lack of availability of quality healthcare in one’s home country, or the simple desire to combine a holiday with medical care. Asia is at the head of the pack for medical tourism due to the availability of excellent healthcare centres, highly qualified and internationally accredited doctors and nurses, and considerably low costs of medical treatments and procedures.
Thailand is one of the true pioneers of medical tourism in Asia. During the 1980s and 1990s the country invested heavily in new medical technologies and encouraged medical students and specialists to study and become certified abroad. After the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the country took advantage of their well-developed medical infrastructure, and began marketing their health services to international patients seeking high quality, yet low cost health care. Today, millions of international patients come to Thailand for a broad range of treatments including cardiology, oncology, ophthalmology, and spinal surgery.
Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok is Asia’s largest private hospital, and was the first centre in Thailand to become internationally accredited with Joint Commission International (JCI), an organization dedicated to upholding the highest international standards of healthcare safety and quality. Bumrungrad treats approximately 420,000 international patients from 190 different countries every year, and offers facilities and services for international patients that are second to none. Services include the International Medical Coordination Center that deals specifically with medical traveller’s needs, 109 interpreters in a range of languages, an airport transfer desk at the arrival area in Suvarnabhumi Airport and two residential facilities with serviced apartments for patients and family members.
Another leader in the healthcare tourism industry in Thailand is the Bangkok Hospital Group, one of the biggest healthcare providers in Southeast Asia with eighteen private hospitals across the country. Many medical travellers opt for treatment in one of the nine Phuket locations in order to have post-treatment access to the beautiful beaches and spas on the island.
Besides high quality healthcare at comparatively low prices, medical travellers come to Thailand for renowned traditional treatments like Thai massage and herbal remedies, the pleasant climate, which can aid in recuperation, and the warm hospitality of the Thai people.
Top notch healthcare is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of India, but in fact, India is a global leader in medical tourism. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry, the revenue from the medical tourism market in India is predicted to grow to $2 billion by 2012. Reasons for this steady growth are the large number of world-class healthcare facilities and exceptionally skilled, internationally accredited medical professionals across the country.
One of India’s most trusted organizations for international medical travellers is the Apollo Hospitals Group, a network of 50 hospitals across India that specialize in cardiology, cancer treatment, organ transplants and assisted reproduction. The standards here are high; seven centres are JCI accredited and Apollo Chennai was the first Indian hospital to receive certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). With a whopping 100,000 heart surgeries, 746 organ transplants, and thousands of hip resurfacing surgeries under their belt, Apollo is one of the most experienced centres in the world in terms of volume of medical procedures. And the incredibly high 90-99% success rates are on par with Western medical standards. In addition, the organization is celebrated for its advanced medical research and cutting edge medical technology.
The number one draw to India for most medical tourists is the extremely low prices of high quality medical procedures and surgeries, with costs averaging one tenth of what a patient would pay in the United States or Europe. For example, Michael Munz, from the United States, recently underwent cardiac surgery at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai and reports, “The cost here was about $12,000 (USD) total as opposed to $100,000 plus in the States. The $12,000 here included the treatment, airfare to and from India, as well as two weeks of recuperation at a seaside resort.”
In addition to being one of Southeast Asia’s premier holiday destinations, Malaysia is also ahead of the game when it comes to health tourism. Low costs, ease of entry into the country, multicultural and multi-lingual staff and experienced specialists with internationally recognized qualifications are just a few of the reasons patients may choose Malaysia for medical treatment.
Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur is one of Malaysia’s most respected and reputable hospitals, and has been treating local and international patients for fifteen years in their state-of-the-art facilities, with a focus on cardiology, gynaecology, fertility and executive screening for disease prevention. Over 90% of the multi-lingual doctors and nurses have studied and trained in Western countries, such as the United Kingdom, The United States, and Australia. In addition, the centre has received accreditation from both ISO and the prestigious Malaysian Society for Quality in Health. Like many of Malaysia’s medical centres that cater to international health travellers, Gleneagles provides embassy and visa assistance, flight reservation and accommodation bookings and optional post-treatment tours. The hospital is also affiliated with a large number of insurance companies such as Medisave in Singapore, MediTravel in Indonesia and AIA in Hong Kong, and can help patients arrange medical coverage prior to treatment.
Malaysia also offers health travellers a range of alternative medicine options, such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Shiatsu, reflexology and acupuncture, and the country is well known for its outstanding spas, beach resorts, and nature retreats.
Safety, efficiency, and excellent healthcare are all qualities that Singapore possesses, and as such, it has become a major international player in the globalization of healthcare. In 2003 the Ministry of Health joined forces with three other government agencies to form SingaporeMedicine, a partnership devoted to strengthening and promoting Singapore’s position as Asia’s leading world-class medical hub. According to their reports, Singapore receives over 400,000 medical tourists per year. With outstanding clinics, groundbreaking research centres, and a wealth of world-class physicians, it’s no surprise that travellers flock to Singapore for a range of treatments.
The Parkway Group owns three hospitals in Singapore that are at the forefront of the international healthcare travel industry, Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles and Parkway East. These three hospitals were the first hospitals in the Asia-Pacific region to receive ISO international quality accreditation, and doctors here must go through a rigorous screening process to ensure they are suitably qualified to practice their speciality. Specialities at the three hospitals include cancer treatment, ophthalmology, neurology, fertility, and liver transplantation. The centres also undertake cutting-edge medical research, and a range of options that are not available elsewhere in the region. For example, Mount Elizabeth was the first centre in Southeast Asia to offer stem cell transplant therapy for acute cancers, a procedure that is not readily available many countries.
Medical travellers to Singapore can be assured of high standards, innovative technology, and relatively low costs compared to Western countries. In addition, Singapore is a cosmopolitan city where cultural differences are appreciated and accepted and English is widely spoken.
As one of the world’s most scientifically and technologically advanced countries, it should come as no surprise that South Korea is one of Asia’s top medical tourism destinations. This East Asian nation is at the forefront of cutting edge technology, clinical research and pharmaceutical development. And with a great deal of support from the government in the form of hassle free visas for medical tourists, increased investment in medial technology, and even a Medical Tourism Information Center at Incheon International Airport, South Korea is well on its way to achieving its goal of being Asia’s chief medical tourism hub.
The world’s largest JCI accredited hospital, Severance Hospital, part of the Yonsei University Health System, is no stranger to international health care. The 120-year-old hospital opened its International Health Care Center in 1962, and since then has been delivering first-rate medical treatment and services to international visitors from around the world. The centre is renowned for its robotic surgery techniques, preeminent Cancer Center, physical and occupational Rehabilitation Centre, cardiovascular surgeries, paediatric cancer treatments and diabetes research. In addition, the hospital maintains a strong focus on preventative healthcare, combining state of the art screening processes with centuries old Asian herbal remedies. The hospital is so well regarded that the US has designated it as their on-call hospital during presidential visits to South Korea.
Although the costs of medical treatment in South Korea are slightly higher than those in other medical tourism hotspots in Asia, the overall quality of facilities, services and medical personnel is excellent. And when compared to prices in Hong Kong, The United States or Europe, for example, the potential savings are significant.
According to Renne-Marie Stephano, “Patients seek affordability, accessibility, availability and perceived quality.” With all of these elements in place, each of these countries fit the bill for top medical tourism destinations in Asia. And with added perks like idyllic seaside resorts and retreats, natural alternative medicines, and cosmopolitan environments, these countries are also strong contenders for the world’s best medical travel destinations.
Cost Comparison of Surgical Treatments and Procedures
Cost is a major factor when considering medical treatment outside your home country. In his book, Patients Without Borders, author Josef Woodman describes what he calls ‘The $6,000 Rule’; “If your total quote for local treatment (including consultations, procedures, and hospital stay) is US $6,000 or more, you’ll probably save money by traveling abroad for your care. If it’s less than US $6,000 you’re likely better off having treatment at home.” Woodman also suggests that potential medical travelers be aware of extra expenses, which can add to the total cost, such as airfare, international exit and entry fees, anesthesia, room fees, prescriptions, meals, and post-treatment lodging to name a few.
The following are comparisons of common treatments and procedures medical travelers undergo in Asia.
Data from Patients Without Borders
All prices are in USD and do not include accommodation or travel costs
Coronary Artery Bypass
South Korea $35,000
Valve Replacement With Bypass
South Korea $33,000
South Korea $15,500
South Korea $18,500
South Korea $22,000
In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) Cycle
South Korea $7,500