Penang ranks first in medical tourism income


GEORGE TOWN: Penang tops the health travel revenue charts, earning RM 750 million from 500,000 patients who flew to the state in 2019, according to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025.

There are only 18 private hospitals in Penang, while Selangor has 54 and Kuala Lumpur has 44.

Selangor and Kuala Lumpur achieved RM 280 million and RM 340 million respectively in healthcare travel income in 2019.

Penang is recognized in the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint as “The Most Established State in Health Travel”, and there are good reasons for that.

Cardiothoracic (heart and lung) surgeon Dr HY Lam, whose Indonesian patients make up about 20% of all his patients, said that for Indonesians in Sumatra, for example, coming to Penang for treatment is cheaper than to go to Jakarta.

“One of the reasons many Indonesians come here is the scarcity of cardiothoracic services in their country. Such services in Indonesia are usually only found in Jakarta.

“Traveling to Penang is cheaper and closer, and even living expenses in Penang are cheaper,” he said.

He added that patients and their caregivers sometimes had to live in Penang for an extended period of time due to complex treatments.

Dr Lam was pleased with the news of the plan.

He said there were many Indonesian patients requiring urgent surgery and they were unable to enter Malaysia for follow-up surgeries due to the border closure.

“Some patients in Indonesia are in dire straits.

“With our solid reputation and abundance of facilities, their confidence in us is high,” he said.

He said the plan set out clear guidelines for a reset of healthcare travel after the Covid-19 pandemic, and this will allow doctors to save more lives.

According to the master plan, over 1.22 million healthcare travelers generated nearly RM 1.7 billion in revenue for Malaysia between 2015 and 2019.

In 2019, Indonesians made up the largest number with 65.8%, followed by healthcare travelers from China (5.1%), India (3.1%), UK (2 %), Japan (2%) and other countries like Australia, Singapore. , the Philippines, the United States and Bangladesh.

The plan reveals that 45% of healthcare travelers come for a medical exam, 10% seek gastroenterology treatment, 7% seek cancer therapy, another 7% seek obstetrics and gynecology treatments while the rest come by air because of infectious diseases, cardiology and orthopedic surgery, among many other reasons.

Ronald Koh, a board member of the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia, said the private health care community is eager to resume promoting its services in Indonesia, but recovery will be a difficult task.

“We hope that the international borders will reopen in the first quarter of next year and we will have to return to Indonesia to promote ourselves.

“After the long shutdown, some patients may have become comfortable with the local providers, so we hope to attract them again.

“I hope the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council and the Immigration Department will work with us for the return of healthcare travelers,” he said.

For now, Koh has said private hospitals are teleconsulting with foreign patients.

“We mail them all prescribed medications and test results are sent to us for analysis, but physical exams are not possible,” he said.

He revealed that all private hospitals in Penang are involved in medical tourism.

“Medical tourism represents between 10% and 50% of our total income,” he said, adding that travelers were looking for every conceivable form of medical treatment offered here.


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