Relaxation of rules on advertising may help medical tourism to Malaysia

After much pressure on the Malaysian government to remove advertising restrictions that were harming medical tourism, it has finally relented. Private hospitals and clinics will now be able to advertise their services online and offline, following the government’s decision to liberalise provisions under the Medicines (Advertisement and Sales) Act 1965. 7,000 private clinics and 200 private hospitals will be affected.

Health minister Seri Liow Tiong Lai says this will allow private healthcare providers to advertise their services to potential medical tourists and is in line with the government’s plan to promote health tourism in Malaysia and raise the number of medical tourists by 20% annually from 336,000 visitors last year, “The immediate liberalisation of the provisions will allow private hospitals, clinics and dental clinics to advertise their facilities and services in newspapers, the electronic media and on the internet. They can also advertise abroad but they will have to abide by the laws in those countries as well as the laws here. They can mention the latest equipment or treatment they have but they are not to use superlatives like ‘best’ or make comparisons. There should not be any laudatory promotion of individual practitioner’s skills or experience. Misleading claims with the intention of encouraging the public to procure unnecessary medical services should not be published. The use of superlatives, patient testimonials, financial inducements and downplaying of risks are not allowed.”

Until the change, hospitals and clinics were only allowed to advertise through healthcare magazines and related publications and were not allowed to place advertisements outside Malaysia. But the state is not prepared to make Malaysia equal to competitors, as it still demands control over all advertising. Although the ministry’s Medicines Advertising Board has shortened the time to approve applications for advertisements under the latest advertising guidelines for healthcare facilities and services from six weeks to between three and five days, it will still watch for unapproved advertising and those flouting the law could face a heavy fine and a year or two in prison.

A Malaysian company plans to work with Johns Hopkins University from the USA, to set up a medical science teaching facility and a new hospital in Malaysia, within a new medical city in central Selangor state, to provide a boost to medical tourism in the country. The venture is a private undertaking being promoted and financed by investors from the United States of America and Malaysian. The agreement related to the project is expected be signed soon, when the parties to the deal will be revealed.