The Rise of Medical Travel
Surging Demand Has Prompted Further Investment
in Asia’s Healthcare Infrastructure
By Gregory Curley
The world of healthcare has grown exponentially over the last decade. Skyrocketing costs and limited access to health insurance have left large numbers of people without quality medical services, propelling the need for cutting-edge technologies to unprecedented levels.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Asia. Shaken by the economic crisis and currency crash of 2007, government officials are channeling tourism efforts into marketing nations as premier destinations for international healthcare.
This strategy has proven successful: Asia’s medical tourism market is booming. Ushering in more than 1 million visitors every year, Asia has fast become the world’s leading destination for premium healthcare services. Estimates forecast that its medical tourism market will be worth more than US$4 billion in cumulative growth by 2012, nearly 23% of the global market.
And the growth of the medical tourism industry shows no signs of slowing down. Countries like Thailand, Singapore, India and South Korea are pouring billions of dollars into their healthcare infrastructure to shoulder surging demand for leading medical care through first-class facilities and medical experts, including tertiary hospital care.
Language and regulation are no longer limiting factors for foreigners, allaying fears of miscommunication, discriminatory charging or malpractice.
Even Asian nations without sufficient support are seeing physicians splitting proceeds with public hospitals to set up their own private businesses to cater to any spillover of foreign patients.
Offering ultramodern facilities with significantly shorter waiting times, as well as accommodating recuperative surroundings, Asia provides world-standard medical treatment at a fraction of the cost compared to that of Europe and North America. For example, in South Korea, where preventive healthcare clinics are widely available, MRIs cost one-tenth as much as in the United States.
The emerging markets of Asia’s spa and wellness sector are further propelling its dominance in the industry. Both have opened up new avenues for growth.
Malaysia, long regarded as one of the top four players in the Asian medical tourism market, expects to earn up to US$590 million in that area over the next five years. India is close behind and is widely anticipated to surpass its neighbors with an impressive growth rate of 30% per annum. It stands to earn US$2.2 billion a year by 2012.
Singapore has shown remarkable development as well. With 11 JCI-accredited hospitals, the country has set a target of 1 million visitors per year and expects revenues to climb as high as US$3 billion by 2012.
Included in this boom is newcomer South Korea. Its advanced IT infrastructure, recent revisions to medical laws, and increasing number of highly skilled, multilingual medical personnel make it a strong contender in the global realm of medical tourism.
The Future of Preventive Healthcare
Korea’s Exponential Growth in the Medical Tourism Industry
As the price of healthcare continues to rise throughout the United States and Europe, patients are increasingly turning to key Asian markets for medical treatments.
To shoulder the growing need for cutting-edge healthcare, countries are going to great lengths to expand and upgrade their medical facilities to attract patients.
Korea is no exception. Prepped with state-of-the-art facilities, affordable pricing and a growing number of highly skilled, multilingual medical
experts, it is fast becoming a leader in the industry, well ahead of its Asian counterparts.
The Korean Health Ministry reports that 81,789 tourists came for medical purposes in 2010—an increase of 36% since medical tourism was first introduced to the country two years ago. Of these visits, almost 80% were for outpatient procedures, 6% for inpatient treatment and another 14% for check-ups. Officials expect that figure to climb as high as 140,000 by 2012.
Medical tourism has been one of the major growth engines of the Lee Myung-bak government since 2009. The administration has continued to show strong support for the industry, empowering the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) to handle the majority of its promotional responsibilities.
As part of the newly amended medical tourism guidelines announced by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, foreign patients who have accidents while being treated at Korean medical facilities are now insured and entitled to compensation by the government. Hospitals will also be able to sell drugs to foreign patients directly without the need of a prescription. A number of information centers have also been strategically established at two of Korea’s international airports to spread the word of medical tourism’s growing reach.
The Korean Advantage
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