The 2023 Global Medical Trend Rates Report published by Aon revealed that Malaysia’s medical inflation rate now stands at 12 per cent in 2022, which is way higher than our general inflation rate of 4 per cent recorded in October last year, and our counterparts in Southeast Asia (Thailand recorded 11.7 per cent, while the Philippines and Singapore recorded 8 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively).
Known for its high-quality medical capabilities and affordability, Malaysia has always been a top-of-mind recall for foreigners seeking an ideal medical tourism destination in the region.
Riding on the strong growth momentum from the past few years, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) also holds high hope that the industry could contribute as much as RM2 billion to our economy by 2025.
The hard truth is that it is not easy to lower the medical inflation rate. Many will have wondered if this is a far-fetched goal, given the skyrocketing cost of living.
Fortunately, due to various factors, Malaysia can still push forward its position as a top destination for medical tourism within the region.
Medical Service Providers Are Stepping Up Their Game
Since the reopening of international borders, Malaysia has observed a reflux of foreign patients seeking medical treatment here. Private owners such as Sunway Medical Centre and Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare (RSDH) have recorded double-digit growth in international patient visits in the last couple of months.
Most foreign patients seek specialty and high-acuity treatments in Malaysia that are unavailable in their home countries or neighbouring countries. Seizing the opportunity in demand, private health care groups have been aggressively expanding their offerings.
Some media reports also revealed that these health care groups are looking at broadening their services and products, such as oncology, cardiology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics, and more, to capitalise on foreign demand.
Some of the players have even ventured into new areas of wellness, preventive medicine, and niche offerings using advanced technologies to attract international patients.
At the same time, the public sector is investing efforts to realise their goals too. The government has provided investment tax allowance for private healthcare facilities to invest in internationally recognised accreditation schemes and medical equipment.
Meanwhile, the Sabah Health and Wellness Tourism Council (SHWTC), too, are planning to promote the state as a destination for medical tourism.
These efforts contributed by both the public and private sectors will help Malaysia maintain its competitiveness as a medical tourism location within the international stage.
From Treatment To Recovery: A Comprehensive Ecosystem
However, beyond just medical treatments offered by facilities, Malaysia also has a comprehensive ecosystem to provide foreign patients with a better experience in their health care journey.
Take Kuala Lumpur Wellness City as an example; mooted by a group of medical professionals, it is the first sustainable health care-based township in Southeast Asia that aims to integrate five components, including wellness, medical tourism, lifestyle, a property with services suites, lifestyle homes, retirement homes, and most importantly, a true international hospital.
As in-patient stays are getting shorter and cost of health care is increasing, KL Wellness City believes that health care could eventually shift to the home.
Riding on the trend, the RM12 billion KL Wellness City endeavours to offer one-of-a-kind services and experiences to medical patients and general consumers in the form of a sustainable township.
Still An Attractive Medical Tourism Destination
Malaysia is not the only country eyeing growth in the medical tourism space. Our regional peers are aggressively strengthening their offerings too. Thailand, for example, has recently approved a new one-year visa programme for foreigners seeking medical treatment starting from January 1, 2023.
Meanwhile, Indonesia is constructing the Bali International Hospital – its first-ever health-focused special economic zone – to recoup its annual losses from affluent Indonesians traveling to receive treatment in neighbouring countries.
Despite the competition, Malaysia can boast a rare combination of high-quality services that is cost-competitive, coupled with continuous efforts from both the public and private sectors. Therefore, Malaysia will remain a top destination for medical tourism in Southeast Asia.
Dr Colin Lee is the managing director of KL Wellness City Sdn Bhd.
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