Six months after reopening its borders, Malaysia is seeing a return of foreign medical tourists according to healthcare providers in the country.
In August, Sunway Medical Centre says it saw more than five times the number of medical tourist numbers compared with April, with 31,000 international patient visits recorded from January to July. The top treatments sought at the hospital were for cancer, blood disease, obstetrics and gynaecology, haematology, orthopaedics, and ear, nose and throat. It is looking to develop new clinical services and niche products.
Ramsay Sime Darby Health Care (RSDH) has also observed a 10% pickup in medical tourists from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. RSDH operates four hospitals in Malaysia.
IHH Healthcare Bhd says medical tourist numbers have recovered, with some of the markets in which the group operates such as Turkey and Europe having rebounded when borders reopened in 2021 and grown beyond pre-pandemic levels. Foreign patients tend to visit IHH hospitals for high acuity treatments, which may not be available in their home countries. Such specialities include clinical and radiotherapy oncology, neurology, cardiology and orthopaedic surgery.
Real data on international patient numbers for 2022 is not yet available as the above are leading providers and the picture may not be the same for other hospitals. Many healthcare providers are still hesitant to commit to revenue targets from the medical tourism segment, but that market looks more upbeat for 2023 and beyond.
According to Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) medical tourism in Malaysia is on course for a continuous and sustainable industry growth, which has been strategically proposed for rollout over the next four to five years, guided by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025.
The Malaysian government is targeting hospital revenues (medical receipts only) from medical tourism to hit RM1 billion in 2022 (US$211m), increasing to RM1.3 billion in 2023, RM1.7 billion in 2024 and RM2 billion in 2025.
In MHTC’s blueprint, 2022 is a recovery phase, with 2023 to 2025 the period to rebuild the Malaysian medical tourism industry.
Over the next few years, healthcare groups in the country are planning to advance their offerings in services and products such as oncology, cardiology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, gastrointestinal, paediatrics and robotic services to tap foreign demand.
Sunway Medical Group intends to also strengthen its quaternary services such as kidney transplant, paediatric heart surgery and bone marrow transplant.
KPJ Healthcare will be targeting more surgical referrals from neighbouring countries, especially Asean and Asia-Pacific ones.
But healthcare providers will face economic headwinds as high inflation remains, impinging on healthcare spending; there is a shortage of talent, especially nurses, with many being lured abroad by better remuneration packages, as well as increasing competition, and rising healthcare costs eating into profit margins.
Hospitals are working with hotels to host domestic and international patients who go to Malaysia for health screenings with accompanying persons such as family members. This promotion is still new.