Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 13, 2015

GlobalData: Medical Tourism on the Rise in Southeast Asia

Medical tourism is a strange sort of term; essentially, it means to travel abroad in search of particular breeds of medical care that either aren't available in some areas due to regulation or the like, or are priced in a sufficiently prohibitive fashion in one place that the offerings in another place are more attractive by comparison. Formerly largely the province of the wealthy looking for cosmetic treatments, it's becoming an option for a lot more people, and that's sparking a boom in the field, according to a report from GlobalData.

The GlobalData report particularly points out Malaysia, which is turning into a major destination for medical tourism. In 2012, the country reportedly saw over 670,000 patients from abroad, and in 2013, that number was expected to hit over 770,000. That's a big jump, and as GlobalData analyst Jennifer Ryan—who handles medical devices study for GlobalData—explained, it's largely because the government is actually making it easier to operate in the region, as well as safer. Ryan elaborates, saying that Malaysia is able to offer a variety of treatments ranging from cardiology to fertility to orthopedics and beyond, and thanks to accreditation processes and safety standards backed up with regular enforcement, there are not only more treatments on hand, but it's actually safe to have said treatments performed.

Better yet, there are also several resources on hand to plan medical tourism-related trips, with a host of websites offering information on hotel stays, sight-seeing opportunities, and the like, allowing the tourism part of medical tourism to shine through as well, allowing the patient to follow up a treatment with a relaxing vacation in the process. Indeed, Ryan notes that some hospitals have joined up with hotels in the area to offer a complete package deal of surgery and post-surgery stay.

However, there are some concerns about medical tourism, some of which even the most rigorous of standards may not prevent. For instance, there is the possibility of health complications, like deep-vein thrombosis, that can arise during long plane travel. The possibility of counterfeit medicine comes into play, as well as the possibility of what's been called “country-specific antibiotic resistance,” as some countries' antibiotics prove less effective for citizens of other countries. What's more, there's also an issue that, with a focus on medical tourism, actual citizens of the country in question may not get access to the same level of care, which can in turn create problems.

Still, for those with the cash to do so, or with insurance that would actually cover, even in part, such a thing, medical tourism does have some real options to offer users. There is, admittedly, something nice about the idea of following up surgery with a long, slow walk on a tropical beach, the kind that Malaysia might be able to readily offer depending on location. A December 2014 article from Touropia actually offered a top 10 list of best Malaysian beach resorts, so that wouldn't be too far out of line. It's hard to imagine how a relaxed recovery environment wouldn't be a help to patient recovery, and there are more than enough such options to be had.

It's a good situation, with a patient market eager for certain procedures and a relaxing recovery environment coupled with a hospital market ready to provide such services. While it's not without its risks, or its drawbacks, it's still got quite a bit to offer, and may well help reduce costs throughout on the strength of stronger competition alone.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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