Southeast Asia’s medical tourism industry has experienced rampant growth in the recent years driven by quality healthcare delivery services, competitive rates and reputable medical expertise. Among the popular destinations in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) for medical tourism are Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Over the years, these countries have taken various initiatives to strengthen their capabilities and improve in terms of infrastructure (including hospital facilities) to capture a share in the medical tourism market.
What drives medical tourism in the region?
Demographics transition towards an increasingly globalised, ageing and chronically ill population have increased the need for healthcare treatments globally. The lack of specialised treatments in the home country has driven people to look for medical treatment elsewhere. Insurance portability also allows consumers to port their benefits with another insurer of their choice which enables them to enjoy health benefits provided by hospitals in other countries in a more cost-effective way. Technological advancements, the rise of social media and customer-focused services are making information more transparent to consumers as consumers are more willing to seek and pay for elective treatments overseas due to enhanced connectivity and the ease of travel.
Rhenu Bhuller, a partner at Frost & Sullivan, said medical tourism will continue to be an attractive sector mainly in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. She said Thailand and Malaysia will continue to see growth due to cost-effectiveness, but Singapore will struggle as costs become prohibitive. Singapore will, however, continue to be a preferred destination in specialised areas such as cancer and cardiology, at least in the short term, but the volume patients will continue to look towards Thailand and Malaysia.
“Thailand continues to be at the forefront of medical tourism in Southeast Asia, holding about 50 percent of the patient share. However, Malaysia is gaining ground as a cost-effective, quality option although from a market size perspective it comes in after Thailand and Singapore,” Bhuller told The ASEAN Post via an email reply. Both Thailand and Malaysia are expected to grow between eight percent and 12 percent in 2017. Thailand is stepping up efforts to tap into the growing Chinese market, while in Malaysia, Indonesians remain the main contributor to the growth as Penang and Kuala Lumpur will continue to be hubs for medical tourism. More Singaporeans will cross the border for cheaper healthcare services in Malaysia that are reimbursed under MediShield Life. According to Singapore’s Health Ministry, MediShield Life is a basic health insurance plan, administered by the CPF (Central Provident Fund) Board, which helps to pay for large hospital bills and selected costly outpatient treatments such as dialysis and chemotherapy for cancer.