How To Ensure Success In Medical Tourism

A few weeks ago, I chaired a session in London on behalf of the Malaysia Health Care Travel Council. They held a ‘Malaysia Healthcare Experience’ event in London, UK, with the support of IMTJ.

It brought home to me the three key elements of Malaysia’s success in becoming a stand out medical tourism destination.

  • Their emphasis on quality and standards of care.
  • Their focus on the extended patient journey.
  • Their clarity and focus in terms of developing a medical tourism strategy.

It’s in these three areas where many destinations fall short, and, hence, end up with a medical tourism initiative that never gets off the ground, or quite simply fails.

Emphasis on quality and standards of care.

Over the last ten years, Malaysia has averaged a compound annual growth rate of 9% for medical travel revenue and 15% for medical traveller arrivals. Those are impressive numbers. Remarkably, given the volume of international patient throughput, there have been few instances of patients suffering due to medical malpractice or poor care provided in the country’s hospitals. Medical tourism is dogged by bad news stories – media coverage of “medical tourism gone wrong”, patients who have died, patients who have suffered life changing injury due to the shortcomings of a country’s doctors and healthcare facilities.

In Malaysia, healthcare providers are subject to strict regulation by the Ministry of Health to ensure the peace of mind of patients who have sought treatment in Malaysia. The private healthcare sector is determined to match or surpass global standards and invest in the latest technology. The approach has built trust and confidence in the country’s healthcare sector both domestically and internationally.

One of MHTC’s initiatives is the introduction of a Hospital Partnership Programme that identifies a select list of private hospitals to drive the healthcare travel industry. These hospitals are evaluated by an Evaluation and Selection Committee (“E&S Committee”), comprising representatives from various industry stakeholders. Approval by the E&S Committee is based on the private healthcare facilities fulfilling stringent set criteria including accreditation from recognised accreditation bodies under the International Society for Quality in Health Care (“ISQua”).

So, rather than allow any healthcare provider of any standard to sell its healthcare services globally, Malaysia ensures that only the best can present the country’s healthcare brand. And by controlling who does what, it avoids the reputational damage of those “medical tourism gone wrong” media stories.

Focus on the customer journey

From the early days, Malaysia realised that success in medical travel isn’t just about treating patients successfully and sending them home. They have worked hard to deliver a medical travel experience that is customer centric and consistently delivers customer satisfaction and a positive patient experience throughout the customer journey.

In healthcare, we spend much of our time talking about patients and the patient experience. But to deliver an outstanding experience for international patients, destinations and healthcare providers have to think more about the customer experience and the customer journey.

Malaysia’s strategy has been focused on delivering exceptional outcomes at all key phases of the customer journey from pre to post treatment and beyond. It has thought about the customer touch points – the interactions that impact the way that a customer thinks about their experience and that help to build brand image.

At only one healthcare conference (apart from the IMTJ Medical Travel Summit) , have I seen a speaker talking about the customer journey in medical travel. Where was that? In Kuala Lumpur.

Clarity and focus in terms of developing a medical tourism strategy

When it comes to medical tourism strategy, few destinations get it right. Some jump straight into tactics – investing in marketing and promotion to a plethora of potential markets, without thinking through their strategy. Some believe that once they’ve established a medical tourism cluster, attended exhibitions and shows across the globe and met lots of medical tourism agents and facilitators, the flow of patients to their destination will increase.

Medical tourism is not a market. It is a complex network of niche markets. The starting point for any strategy in medical tourism is to decide what you’re going to sell to whom. You aim to match your product and service strengths with specific market needs and wants. To do that requires some fairly in-depth analysis of the target markets and an honest assessment of your destination’s strengths and weaknesses relative to competing destinations.

Malaysia is clear about where it believes its strengths are and where the opportunities lie – and aims to establish itself as the Asian hub for fertility and cardiology. That’s not to say that it turns away patients seeking other forms of treatment. But it has a clear focus on two areas of expertise. Currently healthcare travellers to Malaysia come from Indonesia, India, China, Japan, Bangladesh, the UK, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia and the US. China, Vietnam and Myanmar have been identified by MHTC as core markets for their services in the future. In IVF, the China market is a key priority.  According to some industry estimates, Chinese couples spend around $8 billion each year on IVF, driven by the change in the one child policy in 2015. There has been a surge in demand for fertility treatment among older women that cannot be met within China. Malaysia is well placed to seize that opportunity.

The takeaway

So, if you don’t want to be the next medical travel destination to fail, follow Malaysia’s example:

  • Put product and service quality first.
  • Understand and deliver an outstanding customer journey
  • And identify what you do best, who might buy it and focus, focus, focus.


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Keith Pollard
As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.