KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Malaysia is known for its world-class healthcare services and it has over the years gained global recognition as a premier destination for medical tourism.
Malaysia’s medical tourism sector has been seeing positive growth in recent years, registering a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent from 2015 to 2019 – exceeding the region’s average growth rate of between 12 and 14 percent.
This year, however, the sector’s growth projection has been trimmed due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in restrictions on international travel and the closure of the nation’s borders to stem the spread of the virus.
Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive officer Sherene Azli told Bernama the revenue target from medical tourism for this year has been slashed by 70 percent to RM500 million, with its economic impact estimated at RM3 billion.
Earlier, MHTC had targeted RM2 billion in revenue and RM10 billion in estimated economic impact for 2020.
In 2019, the sector reaped RM1.7 billion in revenue and registered 1.3 million patient arrivals from various nations.
MHTC, meanwhile, is still updating this year’s data pertaining to medical tourist arrivals in Malaysia. To help revive the medical tourism industry, on June 19 the government eased restrictions on the entry of foreign patients who are critically ill and require treatment in the intensive care unit.
According to Sherene, as of now healthcare travellers from all countries are allowed to enter Malaysia but subject to approval by immigration authorities with the help of MHTC and stringent standard operating procedures.
“Health travellers heading to Malaysia to receive treatment must travel by a private jet or chartered flight, or enter the country via medical evacuation,” she explained.
Among the international awards Malaysia has won in recognition of its healthcare services are the United Kingdom-based International Medical Travel Journal’s Cluster of the Year award for three consecutive years – 2017, 2018 and 2019 – and the highly commended Health and Medical Tourism: Destination of the Year award in 2019.
Sherene said the US-based International Living magazine has accorded Malaysia top ranking in the Best Healthcare in the World category of the 2019 International Living Annual Global Retirement Index, surpassing other nations such as France, Thailand, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Malaysia was, and still is, the sought-after destination for medical travellers wishing to undergo treatment in specialised fields such as orthopaedics, cardiology, neurology, oncology and fertility.
Cardiac Vascular Sentral Kuala Lumpur (CVSKL) chairman Tan Sri Dr Yahya Awang said the most pressing matter at hand is to see how government and private hospitals can continue offering excellent health services to medical travellers even though the nation is still grappling with COVID-19.
“Since the start of the outbreak and Movement Control Order (MCO), there has been a reduction in (administrative) manpower and the number of medical travellers seeking treatment,” he said.
However, added Dr Yahya, the travel restrictions that have been imposed to check the transmission of the COVID-19 virus should not be seen as an obstacle to medical tourism.
“We should use existing technologies, for example, the Zoom application, to communicate with (foreign) patients for consultation purposes and to discuss what kind of treatment they need,” he told Bernama, adding that teleconferencing and webinars are also effective mediums of communication between specialists and their patients.
He also said that CVSKL, which is a private cardiac and vascular centre, has postponed many heart surgeries involving medical travellers who were not in a critical condition.
The hospital, which has a team of 21 specialists and is equipped with high-tech facilities, conducts various cardiac procedures, among them being angioplasty, ablation, coronary artery bypass graft, transcatheter aortic valve implantation and personalised external aortic root support.
Dr Yahya said now that the medical tourism sector is being resuscitated under the Recovery Movement Control Order period, industry players should focus on two aspects.
First, collaboration between government and private hospitals must be strengthened further in order to provide first-class services to Malaysian as well as foreign patients.
Suggesting that private hospitals assist their government counterparts by taking over patients who need immediate surgery and treatment, he said such collaborations will help to speed up the treatment process and shorten the waiting list at government hospitals.
Second, hospitals must station their own agents at the main entry points into the country who can serve as middlemen to speed up the registration process for patients and ferry them to their respective hospitals.
“This way, foreign patients don’t have to wait long at the airport. The hospital concerned must arrange for their transportation from the airport and, in the case of the critically ill, start the treatment process immediately,” he added.