Does government support for medical tourism pay off?

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Around the world, many governments see inbound health and medical tourism as a boost to their country’s economy. So how do they support the efforts of local healthcare providers and does that investment pay off? IMTJ Editor-in-Chief Keith Pollard looks at some top examples.

In an IMTJ article earlier this year, we profiled the Indian government’s efforts to boost the economy by supporting the activities of participants in the country’s medical tourism sector. So how does India and other destinations support medical tourism and does it really deliver a return on investment?

India

India attracts patients, mainly from poorer countries that lack health facilities and for whom India’s low treatment costs are attractive. The government offers a medical tourism visa program; approximately 500,000 are issued each year. Bangladesh, Iraq, Maldives, Afghanistan, Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania account for about 88% of the total international patients visiting India. Bangladesh alone accounts for 54% of the total medical tourists. However, as some visas will cover patient companions, the actual number of traveling patients is likely to be around 250,000 to 350,000. Also keep in mind that not all medical tourists in India care about a visa. of medical tourism. According to Indian Tourism Statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism, 6.7% of India’s total tourist visitation in 2020 was for medical purposes.

In 2022, the Indian Ministry of Tourism launched an integrated communication strategy to support medical tourism, “Heal in India”. Packages include:

  • Improve medical infrastructure in 17 cities.
  • Relaxation of medical visa standards and other requirements for patients and their companions from 44 countries, mainly African, Latin American and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Southern Association members – Asian Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
  • Formation of the Medical Value Travel Council of India, co-chaired by the Ministries of Health and Tourism.
  • Selection of 37 hospitals including 30 in the private sector distributed in 17 cities of 12 states which have been identified to promote travel with medical value.
  • Provision of one-stop-shops at appropriate airports for matters related to medical travel, transportation, boarding and accommodation.
  • Development of an online portal as a one-stop-shop for services provided by medical travel facilitators and hospitals with an interface for foreign patients, displaying standardized treatment package prices and offering a claims section, as well as an option to submit reviews and patient testimonials.

India’s national efforts to support its national health institutions look impressive. However, no investment costs have been made public, and it remains to be seen whether these plans will be profitable in the medium and long term.

Malaysia

Looking at the “Heal in India” plans, you might think they’ve been taken out of the Malaysian medical tourism playbook.

The Malaysian government has for many years supported medical tourism as a source of revenue for the economy and is often seen as the shining light in this sector, certainly in Southeast Asia. Medical tourism is among the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) of the country. The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), established in 2011, has put in place various initiatives to make Malaysia a top destination for medical tourists. The government is working with the private sector, especially private hospitals, and local and foreign government agencies in implementing its marketing plans. Its notable achievement is perhaps the delivery of an end-to-end patient experience, supported by local centers in targeted source markets, call centers, concierge and airport lounge services, rehabilitation and post-treatment support.

MHTC is well funded, well staffed and, under strong leadership, has a clearly defined strategy for growth. In its most recent medical tourism statistics, it reported medical tourism revenues of US$373 million. In its Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021 – 2025, MHTC sets out the strategies and framework for players in the healthcare travel industry. To assess return on investment, Malaysia measures the throughput and value of medical tourists in a more structured way than probably any other medical tourism destination.

Turkey

It is reported that the Turkish government has invested more than US$30,000 million in promoting medical tourism in Turkey over the past ten years. According to official TURKSTAT data, 662,000 medical tourists visited Turkey in 2019, generating revenue of US$1.65 billion. During the pandemic that affected 2020, the number fell to 388,000 with a turnover of $549 million. In 2021, 642,000 medical tourists brought in $1.49 billion. In the first quarter of 2022, there were 285,000 medical tourists generating revenues of US$332 million. The country hopes to see medical tourism generate US$3 billion in revenue as the numbers increase.

Visa procedures for foreign patients visiting Turkey for treatment are facilitated by the Health Tourism Board, Association of Private Hospitals and Association of Private Universities. The government has invested heavily in supporting the promotion of medical tourism, subsidizing the marketing and promotion activities of agencies and providers and paying 50-70% of the cost of attending overseas fairs and exhibitions. .

However, where Turkey has failed to fine-tune its medical tourism law is in the regulation and control of healthcare providers and medical tourism agencies that are active in the sector. The Turkish government introduced the International Health Tourism and Tourist Health Regulations in 2017, establishing minimum service delivery standards for medical tourism and rules on the authorization and supervision of health care organizations and intermediaries in medical tourism. Despite these efforts, the country continues to attract negative publicity due to the failures of some of its suppliers. Media reports of disgruntled patients appear in source countries. More recently, the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS) condemned cheap weight loss surgery in Tűrkiye, saying 20 British citizens have died while on medical tourism trips to Turkey since January 2019.

Let health care providers do their own thing?

Unlike the three examples above, it is worth mentioning three major destinations, where the government plays little or no role in supporting their healthcare institutions’ efforts to attract international patients – USA, UK and Germany. In all three countries, health care providers are on their own and are doing very well at it. Providers in all three countries focus on the high-end and complex treatment niches of medical tourism where numbers may be low but revenues per patient are very high. And for the individual healthcare providers involved in the business, you can be sure they are measuring their return on investment.

What’s happening elsewhere?

If you want to know how other countries’ governments are supporting medical tourism, invest in an IMTJ subscription and you will have access to IMTJ country profiles in which we summarize government involvement in the local medical tourism market.

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