Medical Torism Rises in Malaysia Despite Economic Downturn (25 March 2009) Print E-mail

Medical tourism rises in Malaysia despite economic downturn

From The Star, Wednesday 26 March 2009 

By Daljit Dhesi 


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is gaining prominence as a destination for medical tourism despite its business activities being impacted by the global economic downturn.

More international tourists are seeking medical treatment in the country and the number of private healthcare providers catering to medical tourism has sprung up in recent years.

Medical tourism refers to the practice of travelling across international borders to seek medical services at lower costs.

Statistics from Tourism Malaysia revealed that 75,210 foreign patients were treated in 2001 and, by 2006, that figure had grown to 296,687, amounting to US$59mil in revenue.

According to the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia, the Malaysian medical tourism sector is expected to contribute RM540mil in 2010 by treating about 625,000 medical tourists. Currently, Indonesians account for 70% of medical tourists to Malaysia.

It also forecast the number to increase by 30% next year.

Like other foreign companies seeking to carve a niche in medical tourism, global health information technology (IT) provider iSOFT sees Malaysia’s potential in this sector and aims to further tap into the lucrative market.

iSOFT also intends to provide its expertise to hospitals nationwide. It currently provides IT software and solutions to 10 government hospitals and 11 private hospitals in Malaysia.

The private hospitals include Universiti Malaya Medical Centre, Metro Specialist Centre, Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre and the NCI Cancer Hospital.

iSOFT executive chairman and chief executive officer Gary Cohen said medical tourism and healthcare were growing businesses worldwide and Asia was fast gaining prominence amid the global financial crisis.

“Revenue from medical tourism is forecast to grow more than 10 times in the next five years on a global scale. The high cost of medical treatment in the US and Europe is causing more people to seek treatment in Asia.

“About 60% of the world population is spending their healthcare budget in Asia and this figure is expected to go up in the coming years,’’ he said in an interview.

Malaysia, he added, had the potential to be a regional hub in medical tourism as it had the right infrastructure in terms of healthcare system and it was cost competitive compared with regional and international markets.

“The Government is also encouraging this sector to further thrive as a potential foreign exchange earner in these tough times when exports and other business activities are declining,’’ he noted.

To boost medical tourism, one of the key ways was having the right product and software that would ensure efficient healthcare processes with lower costs, he added.

iSOFT, a subsidiary of Australia-based IBA Health Group Ltd, is one of the largest specialist health IT providers in the world and its software is used by more than 13,000 healthcare organisations worldwide.

iSOFT Asia president and CEO Dr Wim Botermans said its Lorenzo software enabled patients’ medical records to be connected electronically, hence helping healthcare providers make faster and better decisions by bringing them the right information at the right time along the patients’ healthcare journey.

The product also allowed healthcare providers to manage their processes more efficiently and at lower costs, he added.