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How South East Asia is rebooting medical tourism in a pandemic world

  • Related content
  • Peer review
  • Megan Tatum , freelance journalist
  • Penang, Malaysia
  • wordsbymegantatum{at}gmail.com

Southeast Asia is taking the lead on a reboot of medical tourism, even as the pandemic continues, reports Megan Tatum

For two years, the number of tourists arriving in Malaysia specifically for medical treatment has plummeted.

2020 had been earmarked as a record breaking year for the medical tourism sector, with two million international visitors forecast to arrive for treatment as part of the Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel.1 Private hospitals had rolled out 15 000 additional beds in anticipation, hotel chains had partnered with specialist agencies to prepare all-inclusive tourist packages, and members of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) toured international trade expos.

Covid-19 thwarted those ambitions. From March 2020 until April 2022, Malaysia’s borders remained closed to all but a few inbound tourists. Healthcare facilities shifted their focus to emergency management of the pandemic, and providers that had once relied on medical tourists turned their attention to local patients.

Now though, three months after international tourists were once again allowed to enter the country, signs of recovery are evident. In fact, by 2025 revenue from healthcare travel could once again match pre-pandemic levels, contributing up to 7bn Malaysian ringgit (RM) (£1.3bn) to the national economy, MHTC says.

Slow recovery

The pandemic did huge damage to Malaysia’s previously thriving medical tourism sector, says Kuljit Singh, president at the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia, and ear, nose, and throat specialist at Kuala Lumpur’s Prince Court Medical Centre. “At many clinics and hospitals we went to zero [international patients] and the only medical tourism we saw was evacuation of patients for emergency care. In terms of tourists coming through the normal channels, it was almost zero.”

Individual specialists were also affected, some of whom say they relied on medical tourists for up to 25% of their total patient numbers before the pandemic. Overall, 2020 revenues more than halved after seven years of consecutive double digit growth. Two thirds (68%) of that business came from foreign patients living within the country, such as expatriates and holders of the Malaysia My Second Home visa.

The sector did see a limited number of patients, even during the worst of the crisis. In September 2020, the government introduced a medical travel “bubble” that allowed tourists to enter the country for treatment as long as they arrived by private aircraft and were not exposed to the wider community. According to MHTC, the “stringently monitored” bubble enabled the healthcare travel industry to make RM551m in 2021.

Since April the sector has started to recover, although it has been a slow start for those practising outside the capital, according to Boon Chong Tan, an orthopaedic surgeon in Penang. International flights to smaller states were not added to airline schedules until May, and medical tourists were reluctant to consider transiting on to a domestic route. But that’s now beginning to change, he says.

New world, new markets

In 2019, more than two thirds of Malaysia’s revenue from healthcare travel came from Indonesia and China, according to MHTC figures. China continues to face restrictions on outbound travel but remains a key focus for Malaysia in the longer term. One niche service Malaysia provides is fertility treatment, where it plans to target the approximately 90 million couples in China estimated to be looking to conceive a second child following abolition of the country’s one-child policy in 2015. Forty million of these couples are estimated to be over the age of 40.

In the shorter term Indonesia will remain the prime source of medical tourists, says Lee Kim Siea, a plastic surgeon based in Penang.

For travellers from Singapore, the US, Australia, and the UK, Malaysia is appealing because of its comparatively cheaper medical care compared with domestic healthcare. Before the pandemic, these four countries represented just 6.2% of all medical tourists arriving in Malaysia, but local experts say a greater focus on alternative treatments, or wellness, could increase that figure.

Already “a lot of new centres are emerging that now provide wellness services, or even standalone clinics that see wellness as their core business,” says Singh. The definition of wellness could be broad, he adds, encompassing everything from comprehensive health screening to minor cosmetic procedures, or even rehabilitative facilities designed to care for patients who have had more invasive procedures elsewhere. “To increase the portfolio of foreign tourists coming into the country, centres will certainly be looking at this option.”

It’s a strategy already being pursued by Thailand, which hosts the greatest number of medical tourists in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, bringing in revenues of $1.8bn (£1.5bn)in 2019. The government has announced plans to grow its medical tourism sector by 5% in 2022, and has also focused on “wellness” facilities, from high end centres for covid-19 quarantine and recovery, to nutrition, herbology, traditional medicine, and anti-ageing treatments.

Singapore has set aside nearly SGD$500m (£300m) to support the recovery of tourism, and ministers forecast that SGD$1.1tn will come from “wellness tourism” by 2025 because of an increased interest in holistic healthcare post-pandemic.

More than just hospitals

To provide more holistic experiences means the onus isn’t just on hospitals or private clinics to adjust to a big influx of inbound medical tourists. “The challenge is the preparedness of the country to accept the number of medical tourists that could come to this country,” says Singh. “We’re still recovering from post-pandemic issues. We’re hoping that hotels are able to cope, but we need workers in the hotels and the hospitality sector to return to the levels they were prior to 2020. In hospitals we have the manpower, we did not let our staff go, but medical tourism requires a lot of other sectors to work together.”

For some individual doctors, meanwhile, the merits of medical tourism simply don’t outweigh the negatives. For Victor Cheong, a plastic surgeon in Kuala Lumpur, a brief stint working with specialist medical tourist agencies was enough. “I found there were too many negatives,” he says. These included not having a direct relationship with the patient prior to their arrival in Malaysia, pressure to carry out cosmetic procedures such as weight loss surgery that may be unnecessary, and the ethics of selecting a doctor based on price. “Most are coming here because it’s cheaper, and to me that’s a very bad way to start a doctor-patient relationship,” he says.

Cheong does treat international patients, including recent arrivals from Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Ireland, but he relies on word-of-mouth recommendations and prefers to focus on local patients instead.

All of the local doctors that spoke to The BMJ described a change in the makeup of their practices post-pandemic, with a greater proportion of local patients and expatriates. The flipside of the global crash in medical tourism was a new stream of patients turning to their local providers, adds Kim Siea.

“There was a pool of patients that were intending to seek treatment overseas, but due to the restrictions on travel they sought treatment locally instead,” he says. “This additional income helped us to make up for the loss of foreign patients and hopefully, even now the borders have opened, they’ll continue to stay with us rather than going overseas.”

Competing interests: I have read and understood The BMJ policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare

Provenance and peer review: Commissioned, not externally peer reviewed.

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Medical Tourism in Asia: Ultimate Guide

Editorial Team

  • March 14, 2022

What is the best country for medical tourism, How to get patients for medical tourism, Why medical tourism is drawing patients, Is medical tourism bad, What is medical tourism,

Table of Contents

medical tourism asia

What is Medical Tourism?

  • Primary care includes general practitioners (GPs), family doctors, and other primary healthcare providers.
  • Specialist care includes visits to specialists such as cardiologists, neurologists, oncologists, and gastroenterologists.
  • Surgery includes surgeons, obstetricians and gynecologists, and other medical specialists.

Is Medical Tourism Bad?

How to get patients for medical tourism.

Why is Medical Tourism Popular?

How does medical tourism work.

Why Patients Are Turning to Medical Tourism

Medical tourism benefit: lower costs.

Insurance Incentives in Medical Tourism

Luxurious experience and unmatched privacy.

Patients are on Vacation in a Foreign Country

Avoid rules and regulations, talented surgeons.

The Most Frequent Conditions Treated in Medical Tourists

Cosmetic surgery.

Cardiac conditions

In vitro fertility, weight loss, dermatology.

Liver, kidney transplants

Spine surgery, why choose asia in medical tourism.

What is the Best Country for Medical Tourism?

Abu dhabi medical tourism.


South Korea

The Future of Medical Tourism Industry

Conclusion: Medical Tourism in Asia

How does medical tourism help the economy of a country, medical tourism covid, hysterectomy in tijuana, medical tourism mexico,

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Medical Tourism in Asia Guide: Top 7 Destinations

Medical Tourism in Asia

Why is Asia good for medical care?

Medical care in thailand, medical care in singapore, medical care in malaysia, medical care in vietnam, medical care in india, medical care in taiwan, medical care in south korea.

Traveling to Asia is often associated with culinary food, warm weather, and white beaches. Over the years, a new trend has come and where travelers visit Asia for medical purposes.

Visiting countries like Thailand and Malaysia doesn’t only allow you to get hold of high-quality health care for a fraction of the prices back home. You can also take the chance to have a short vacation to recharge your batteries and discover what the countries have to offer.

In this article, you’ll learn more about how it works when visiting Asia for medical care purposes and the benefits. I will cover a range of topics so that you become more prepared before choosing what destination to visit.

As Asian countries develop, a new trend has become obvious, and where travelers want to cut hospital cues back home and reduce medical fees. I’m not saying that medical care in Western countries is bad, but we have to look at the availability of healthcare.

Besides, separating public and private healthcare systems is crucial to make a fair comparison.

In some European countries, you sometimes have to wait for months until you can get a CT-scan if you go through the public healthcare system. The process can also be bureaucratic as you first have to visit a general practitioner, he or she will then determine whether you can visit a specialist.

To overcome this issue, people often have to opt-in for private health insurance, even if they pay taxes and have access to public healthcare. Cancer patients face the dilemma of waiting for a few months to get the necessary treatment for free (or for a cheaper price), or go to a private hospital and get help instantly.

This is a fact and I could mention practical examples of friends’ families that have been in such situations.

If you visit Asian countries for healthcare purposes, you’ll visit private hospitals with services that are often better than Western countries. English-speaking doctors with experience from overseas are accessible, at the same time as hospitals have state-of-the-art equipment.

While only a few countries offered these kinds of services to foreigners in the past, we now see more and more developing countries that have become interested in medical treatment.

To give you a better overview and help you in your decision-making when selecting a destination for medical healthcare, we’ve analyzed the most interesting countries and what the benefits are of receiving medical care there.

Let’s get started with the destination that receives a significantly large amount of medical travelers.

While Thailand has a shortage of general practitioners on a national level, it has some of the region’s best private medical care when considering prices. Years ago, Singapore received most of Asia’s medical tourists, but Thailand has now snapped the first spot.

Nowadays, more than a million travelers visit the country annually for medical purposes, spending tens of billions of US dollars. Thailand’s main advantage is indeed the lower costs compared to Western countries, especially the US.

A hip replacement can cost as little as half compared to the latter one, for example.

Some of the greatest benefits of choosing Thailand for medical tourism are:

  • Regional hub
  • Trained doctors
  • Great service
  • Bundled services
  • A wide range of medical care

Thailand is most renowned for its affordable prices of medical care. It also serves as a regional hub and where Bangkok is the most visited city in the world, receiving around 30 million travelers yearly.

Being the home to plenty of good hospitals, you’ll also notice that many of its private dittos have a large number of doctors that speak English flawlessly and that have both studied and worked overseas.

The Thais are also renowned for being welcoming and used to cater to tourists, a reason why it’s one of the most visited countries among holiday spenders and families in the world.

Bundled services are also an upcoming thing that fewer medical travelers are aware of. In short, this means that if you go for dental treatment , for example, you can also opt-in for cosmetic services at discounted prices. Not to forget, the facilities and services also come with spa-like treatments, including not only massages and baths, but also shopping experiences.

Traveling to Thailand

Bangkok is indeed the most popular city for medical treatments. Here, you can find famous hospitals such as:

  • BNH Hospital
  • Bumrungrad International Hospital
  • Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital
  • Bangkok International Hospital
  • The Bangkok Christian Hospital
  • Phyathai Hospitals
  • Praram 9 Hospital
  • Saint Louis Hospital

Most nationalities can visit Thailand for up to 60 days, but with a possibility to extend the visa for additional 30 days. This makes Thailand suitable for short-term and medium-term stays.

Accommodation is on the lower price-scale compared to Western countries and the food is also top-notch!

Singapore is one of the most popular destinations for medical tourists with deeper pockets. It’s well-known that famous persons such as celebrities and politicians visit the nation for treatment. One example is the ex-Zimbabwe leader, Robert Mugabe, who died at a Singaporean hospital called Gleneagles at the age of 95.

Singapore is only behind Canada and Thailand in terms of medical tourism globally and receives as many as 500,000 people a year. Half of these come from Indonesia. There are plenty of reasons why people choose Singapore as a destination for medical tourism and where some include:

  • English speaking doctors
  • High-quality medical services
  • Vast amount of hospitals
  • Excellent healthcare system

You’ll find the most state-of-the-art equipment here and a vast range of services, including everything from plastic surgeries, orthopedic surgeries, cancer treatments, and cardiac surgeries. Some of the most renowned hospitals in Singapore include:

  • Mount Elizabeth Hospital
  • National University Hospital
  • Raffles Hospital
  • National Cancer Centre
  • National Heart Centre Singapore
  • Singapore National Eye Centre
  • National Dental Centre
  • Gleneagles Hospital

The only general con of visiting Singapore for medical treatment is the high prices. Not only for the treatment itself but accommodation and food. Thus, a reason why many choose Thailand over Singapore is simply due to the lower prices.

Traveling to Singapore

Most visitors can enjoy stays of up to 90 days without the need of applying for visas. Just keep in mind that regulations differ between countries and there can be requirements to show that you’re financially capable of visiting Singapore .

Medical tourism is so popular and common in Malaysia that you can even find a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to the topic. The country receives more than a million medical tourists a year.

Malaysia has many developed cities, in contrast to Thailand where most visit Bangkok or Phuket. Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Penang are all suitable options if you look for high-quality healthcare for a fraction of the price compared to most Western countries.

Interestingly, most of the medical tourists that visit Malaysia come from Indonesia, as for Singapore Other nationalities include Indians, Singaporeans, Japanese, Australians, Europeans, Americans, and visitors from the Middle East.

The benefits of visiting Malaysia for medical treatments are:

  • The comparably low costs
  • English-speaking population
  • Vast options of hospitals

You can find any kinds of medical services in Malaysia. I cannot see any real disadvantages of visiting Malaysia for medical treatment unless you come from countries whose inhabitants are restricted from visiting the country or have issues getting a visa.

Traveling to Malaysia

Malaysia has similar visa regulations to Singapore and most visitors can stay in the country visa-free for up to 3 months. Malaysia also offers a long-term visa referred to as MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) which is primarily targeted towards retirees.

For up-to-date and relevant information about visa-policies for your home country, I recommend you visiting Malaysia’s Government’s website directly .

Vietnam is quickly becoming a popular destination for medical tourism thanks to its low costs. The country attracts more holiday spenders as its tourism industry develops as well. The term was mainly introduced in Vietnam ten years back and we mainly saw a one-way flow of Vietnamese going overseas for treatments.

However, that is now changing as we also see foreigners coming to Vietnam for treatments.

There are various reputable hospitals popping up, both local and international, such as:

  • Columbia Asia
  • FV Hospital
  • Vinmec International Hospital
  • Japan International Eye Hospital
  • Happy Hospital

The hospitals all have experience in catering to foreigners and have English-speaking doctors. Some of them are even foreign-owned.

The main benefits of visiting Vietnam for medical reasons are:

  • The exceptionally low costs (first and foremost)
  • The cuisine
  • The cheap accommodation, food and other activities

The cons include the limited number of hospitals compared to places like Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Besides, you might come across hospital staff or nurses that are not capable of communicating in English. This is not the case in Singapore or Malaysia, for example.

In 2019, as many as 357,000 foreigners visited Vietnam for medical treatment. The most common treatments are dental care, cosmetic surgery, cardiology intervention, and fertility treatment.

Traveling to Vietnam

Traveling to Vietnam is a bit more restricted compared to Singapore and Malaysia, but similar to Thailand. Many Europeans and Americans can visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 30 days if they have a return ticket. It’s also fairly easy to apply for a tourist visa at your embassy.

One drawback of visiting or living in Vietnam is that the country doesn’t have any long-term visa yet. This is not the case in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand where you have more options available.

India is also famous for its medical tourism industry and the country attracts hundreds of thousands of travelers yearly. The country is big and has several regions and cities where medical tourism is particularly popular, including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, New Delhi, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.

India has plenty of English-speaking doctors that either studied or worked abroad, or both, and that are specialized in various fields. Here, you can get help with practically anything but the following areas are typically common:

  • Infertility / Reproductive Medicine
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Physiotherapy & rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics / Joint replacements (Bone/Joints)
  • ENT, head & neck

The benefits of visiting India for medical treatment or purposes are the low costs, its English-speaking population, educated doctors, and the many hospitals available. While Thailand is popular for cosmetic surgeries, for example, India is well-known for attracting travelers that need help with issues related to the above-mentioned areas.

Traveling to India

Most foreign travelers have to apply for an e-Visa before they can visit India. South Korea and Japan are the only countries with 30-day visas on arrival in the country. With that said, visiting India is a little bit more difficult compared to Singapore and Malaysia, for example, but still easy.

Taiwan is well-known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world and has to enroll in its public healthcare system within 3 months of moving there. The coverage rate is extremely high and public hospitals are famously known for being on par with private dittos.

First, Taiwan has many educated doctors that specialize in different fields. Many of them have either studied at any of Taiwan’s best institutions or abroad. Taiwan was only behind the US and Germany in rankings with 14 hospitals listed on the list of the 200 best hospitals in the world. This speaks for itself.

Most medical tourists visiting Taiwan come from Asian countries in the region as it’s a center for the treatment of complex diseases. Another benefit of receiving medical treatment here is that prices are significantly lower in Western countries, for example. Compared to the UK and the US, surgeries cost around 20%.

I cannot find any real drawbacks of visiting Taiwan for medical reasons, except that it might be a bit more expensive with accommodation compared to Vietnam and Thailand, for example. Besides, public hospitals sometimes struggle with queues.

Traveling to Taiwan

Most Europeans, Americans, Australians, and some South American nationalities can visit Taiwan visa-free for up to 90 days. Russians, Thai, and Malaysians can visit Taiwan for up to 30 days visa-free. This makes Taiwan comparably accessible and easy to travel to.

South Korea brings similarities to Singapore as it has some of the most advanced state-of-the-art equipment and pricier medical services. With that said, if you can afford to visit Korea for medical purposes, it should be at the top of your list.

It’s well-known for offering some of the best cosmetic surgeries in the world, but you can get help with technically anything. You can find numerous high-quality hospitals in Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Jeju, and more. Examples include:

  • International Clinic, Seoul
  • Yonsei Severance Hospital
  • Kangbuk Samsung Hospital, Seoul
  • CHA Medical Centre, Seoul
  • Asan Medical Center, Seoul
  • Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul

While South Korea has some of the best healthcare systems in the world, you might encounter the following problems: Doctors that speak limited English, high costs, and the country doesn’t have as comfortable weather as many Southeast Asian peers.

Traveling to South Korea

South Korea has some of the best visa policies on this list and most European countries, Americans, South Americans, and Australians can visit the country visa-free for up to 90 days. Canadians can even visit South Korea for up to 180 days visa-free. This makes South Korea one of the best countries to visit for medical purposes if you want to stay there for a longer period.

Photo Credits: Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay

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ASEAN Healthcare Sectors Anticipate Steady Growth in Medical Tourism

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While cities in Southeast Asia have long served as regional hubs for medical tourism, recent measures from both the public and private sectors are set to establish new flows for travelers seeking high-quality healthcare.

In the largest healthcare acquisition in ASEAN since 2020, Singapore’s Thomson Medical Group (TMG) purchased Vietnam’s largest private healthcare group, FV Hospital, for US$381 million in early July. The deal, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, reflects TMG’s intent to expand into other components of Vietnam’s healthcare value chain. The firm is anticipating rapid growth in both domestic medical spending in Vietnam and medical tourism, particularly from neighboring countries. In 2023, medical tourism from Laos and Cambodia alone is projected to generate US$2 billion in revenue for Vietnam. TMG is now considering other acquisitions in the region, with potential markets including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is striving to bolster the quality of its healthcare systems to appeal to residents who would otherwise seek treatment abroad. Last month, President Joko Widodo remarked that roughly one million Indonesians travel internationally for medical tourism every year, resulting in losses of around US$11.5 billion in foreign exchange. Recognizing this opportunity, Indonesian firm PT Pertamina Bina Medika Indonesia Healthcare Corporation (IHC) has announced plans to establish an international hospital in Bali’s Health Special Economic Zone. The hospital is intended to serve as a hub for both international and domestic medical tourism, with operations projected to commence next year. IHC has collaborated with U.S. medical center Mayo Clinic to develop the hospital in line with international standards.

Neighboring Malaysia is enjoying a surge in medical tourism following the reopening of international borders. In 2022, medical tourism to Malaysia generated around US$286 million in revenue, roughly double that of the preceding year. The Malaysian government is eager to fully revive the sector, with the 2021-2025 Malaysia Healthcare Travel Blueprint anticipating a further increase in medical tourism revenue. Toward this goal, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, an agency under the Ministry of Health, signed an MoU with Maybank Cambodia in mid-July. Certain customers of the Cambodian bank will receive preferential discounts of up to 20 percent in Malaysian hospitals, highlighting the increased ability of Cambodian residents to travel abroad for medical treatment.

These and other measures are likely to shift travel flows in Southeast Asia’s vibrant medical tourism sector, a reflection of the region’s growing affluence and the high quality of its healthcare systems.

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Medical Tourism in SE Asia: What it is, and What it isn’t

Endless beaches, large leafy plants, robust tropical weather, and exotic fruits.  Sounds like a luxury travel magazine perched on a bookshelf in the waiting room of a  doctor’s office, right? Where is this magical place being described? There are many possible answers to that question, so it requires a bit more information. You can also add: frenzied large cities with motorbikes jammed at every intersection during rush hour, and eager street vendors selling copious amounts of vegetables, juices, grilled meats, and fish, while children leave school in their obligatory uniforms. Only one part of the world checks all of the boxes for this, and that is Southeast Asia. 

In this tropical terrain, there are many subjects one can discuss, and many people do. However, a new buzzword is emerging in this part of the world: medical tourism. With the exception of Thailand (which has been at it for more than a decade),  many people in and around Southeast Asia are now starting to promote it. But they are discussing it from two different aspects. 

First, as a destination for tourists who want to have a medical procedure performed at a lower price. And secondly, these same developing countries that have now obtained more wealth, have upper-class citizens traveling to more established countries to have serious and complicated surgeries performed, along with disease management, and receive the latest innovation in healthcare. 

If we first look at inbound patients, that is, people traveling to Southeast Asia for medical care, there are some clear trends and success stories. The two leaders in the region are Singapore and Thailand. Singapore does not bring in a high volume number of patients, but it consistently brings in higher-wealth Asians who desire to meet with medical specialists for second opinions on difficult cases, secure the most modern medical treatments and surgeries, and look for leadership on rare disease management.

Singapore has done an excellent job over the years of strengthening its relationships with the top U.K. and American medical universities which has benefited them in multiple ways.

On the other hand, Thailand has a strong cohesive strategy for inbound medical tourism with various domestic partners and is the only country in SE Asia with the full support of its own government. Hospitals, clinics, travel agencies, hotels, and even airlines, work together to create an environment where medical tourism is welcome and good service is promoted. Thailand evolved into this role by having Thai doctors trained overseas  (primarily in America) and having investment partners that believe in a long-term strategy. Thailand currently has 60 medical clinics, hospitals, and wellness centers that are internationally accredited by JCI (Joint Commission International), which is more than any other country in the region. 

It’s safe to say (for now), that Indonesia is not a part of this same discussion.  While Indonesia is known for its wellness clinics in Bali, that’s pretty much the extent of it. Indonesia still struggles with overcrowded hospitals, lack of proper medical funding, and antiquated medical training. Malaysia, while certainly having established hospitals and above-average medical care (primarily due to being a former British colony), medical tourism has not been a priority until recently. 

Malaysia also doesn't have a reputation for customer service and tourism like its neighbor to the north, Thailand. Lastly, the Philippines and Vietnam provide options for medical tourism in the dental field only. Low labor costs combined with less complicated and more straightforward procedures, make these two countries attractive for this type of specific medical tourism. 

On the opposite side of the coin, these countries are starting to become more transient for their own healthcare needs. As their income increases, citizens in  Vietnam, Cambodia, and others are realizing they have other healthcare options outside their home country. In 2019, before Covid, more than 50,000 Vietnamese patients received medical treatment in a different countries. Many of those patients traveled to America, Europe, and Japan.

Those patients are looking for the latest in healthcare innovation, or doctors with specialties in certain fields (cardiology,  oncology, transplants, etc.) to take care of their pressing medical needs.  

So as the world continues to recover in this post-pandemic era, note that  Southeast Asia is becoming a growing opportunity for both patients and healthcare providers.  

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Home ◂ Blog ◂ Medical Tourism in Asia: Affordable Healthcare and Vacation in One

medical tourism asia

  • July 15, 2023

Medical Tourism in Asia: Affordable Healthcare and Vacation in One

You’ve probably heard about people traveling abroad for medical care to save money. This trend is called medical tourism, and Asia has become its hottest destination. Ever thought of packing your bags and hopping on a plane to get treatment in Thailand or India? You’re not alone. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are doing just that and discovering high-quality yet affordable care in Asia.

Whether you need a knee replacement, heart surgery, or just a checkup and cleaning, medical tourism in Asia can save you thousands compared to the cost back home. Not only that, but you get an exotic trip out of it. Talk about a win-win! While the cost savings are huge, the care is world-class too. Many Asian hospitals are accredited by the same organizations as top US hospitals. Their doctors are often Western-trained, and they have cutting-edge facilities.

If you’re living with a health issue you can’t afford to fix, or you’re simply eager to save on routine care, it’s time to consider being a medical tourist. Asia is ready to roll out the red carpet, give you an amazing experience, and send you home healthier with money still in your pocket. Your new smile or ability to walk pain-free could be just a flight away.

Lower Costs and High-Quality Care: Why Asia Is a Top Destination for Medical Tourism

Medical tourism in Asia is booming, and for good reason. Not only are costs significantly lower compared to the West, but many Asian countries also offer high-quality care and advanced facilities.

In Thailand, for example, a heart bypass typically costs around $30,000, compared to $113,000 in the US. Dental care and cosmetic surgeries can cost a fraction of the price. Thailand is also home to world-class hospitals that attract highly skilled doctors and surgeons.

India offers substantial cost savings for major surgeries. A hip replacement in India may cost $7,000 versus $50,000 in America. In addition to lower costs, India’s top hospitals have outstanding success rates and are equipped with the latest medical technologies.

Singapore has a robust healthcare infrastructure and is known for high standards of care. While costs are higher than Thailand or India, they are still lower than in Western nations. Singapore’s advanced medical facilities, skilled physicians, and shorter wait times attract medical tourists from around the globe.

In Malaysia, cosmetic surgeries and dental care cost 60-80% less than in the US. Fertility treatments and orthopedic surgeries are also very affordable. Malaysia’s private hospitals are accredited by international healthcare organizations, ensuring high standards of quality and safety.

From cutting-edge hospitals to significant cost savings, Asia offers an appealing medical tourism package. By choosing an accredited facility and reputable physician, you can achieve excellent results at a lower price. For major or elective surgeries, Asia is becoming the top destination for savvy medical tourists.

The Rise of Medical Tourism in Asia: Key Trends Driving Growth

Asia is quickly becoming a leading destination for medical tourism, and it’s easy to see why. Costs for procedures and treatments in countries like Thailand, Singapore, and India can be a fraction of the price compared to the US and other Western nations.

For example, a heart bypass surgery that may cost $70,000 in America could run as little as $10,000 in Thailand or India. Dental work, cosmetic surgeries, orthopedic procedures are all far more affordable. Many top hospitals in Asia also have high-quality facilities and doctors with excellent credentials and experience.

Two major factors driving Asia’s medical tourism boom:

  • Lower costs. In addition to cheaper medical care, the overall cost of living in many Asian countries is lower. Your travel and accommodation costs will likely be lower as well. More people can afford needed and elective procedures.
  • High quality. Leading hospitals have state-of-the-art facilities and doctors trained at top schools in the US, UK, and beyond. Stringent accreditation standards also help ensure high quality. People are realizing they can get superb care for a fraction of the cost.

Of course, there are risks to medical tourism. Follow-up care can be difficult across borders. Infection and complication rates may be higher in some countries. Do extensive research on hospitals, doctors, and risks before choosing a destination.

But for many, the rewards of affordable, high-quality healthcare overcome the risks and challenges. Medical tourism in Asia is booming, and for good reason. With more countries investing in healthcare and transparency, Asia is poised to become the world’s hub for medical tourism.

Most Popular Procedures and Destinations in Asia for Medical Tourists

Asia has become a leading destination for medical tourism, with many people traveling abroad for medical care and procedures. Several factors have contributed to the rise in medical travel to Asia, including lower costs, access to procedures not available or affordable in one’s home country, and the opportunity to combine medical care with a vacation.

Most Popular Procedures

Some of the most common procedures that medical tourists seek in Asia include:

  • Cosmetic surgery like facelifts, liposuction, and rhinoplasty. Cosmetic procedures tend to be much more affordable in Asia, especially in countries like South Korea, Thailand, and India which are known for high quality cosmetic care.
  • Dental care such as implants, crowns, fillings, and veneers. Major cities in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines in particular have become go-to destinations for affordable, high-quality dental work.
  • Orthopedic procedures like hip and knee replacements. Top hospitals in India, Singapore, and Thailand attract medical tourists for orthopedic care and rehabilitation at lower costs.

Popular Destinations

The leading countries for medical tourism in Asia include:

  • Thailand, with its advanced private hospitals, highly skilled doctors, and lush resort ambiance. Bangkok is a top destination for cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and heart surgery.
  • India offers world-class care for cardiology, orthopedics, transplants, and other complex surgeries at lower prices due to lower costs of living and labor. Major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore have reputable hospitals catering to international patients.
  • Singapore is a trusted destination for high-quality care and advanced medical technology. Although costs are higher than other Asian countries, they are still typically lower than the US and UK. Singapore specializes in oncology, cardiology, and neurology.
  • South Korea is a leader in cosmetic and plastic surgery, with the highest number of cosmetic surgeries per capita worldwide. Seoul has become a global hub for procedures like facelifts, rhinoplasty, and jaw surgery.

In summary, Asia attracts medical tourists seeking essential and elective procedures at lower costs, often combined with a chance to explore an exotic destination. When planned properly with the help of a medical tourism facilitator, traveling to Asia for medical care can save you money while providing high quality treatment.

How to Plan Your Medical Tour in Asia: A Step-by-Step Guide

To plan a successful medical tour in Asia, follow these steps:

Find a Destination

With so many options, determining where to go is key. Popular destinations include Thailand, Singapore, India, and Malaysia. Do some research on the procedures and facilities in different countries to find one that suits your needs. Cost, quality of care, and travel requirements are all things to consider.

Choose a Hospital or Clinic

Once you pick a country, explore hospitals and clinics that specialize in your treatment. Seek recommendations from your doctor or online patient reviews. Top facilities often have partnerships with Western institutions and doctors trained abroad. Make sure the facility is properly accredited and has a proven track record of success with your procedure.

Connect with a Medical Tourism Agency (Optional)

Medical tourism agencies can help handle logistics like scheduling appointments, booking travel and accommodation, and providing a guide. They have connections with hospitals and clinics and help ensure a smooth experience. Fees vary but can be worth it, especially for complex treatments.

Obtain Necessary Documentation

Check with the hospital or clinic regarding any medical records, tests or authorizations needed from your home doctor. Obtain copies of tests, scans, X-rays or other files that could aid in your diagnosis and treatment. Have all documents professionally translated into the local language, if necessary.

Book Travel Arrangements

Once you have scheduled your treatment dates, book flights and accommodation. Allow ample time for any pre-op consultations or tests before your procedure. And plan to stay at least 7 to 14 days after for follow-ups before flying home.

Plan for Recovery and Aftercare

Discuss aftercare needs with your doctor to prepare for recovery when you return home. Will you need physical therapy or follow-up visits? Make sure you understand medication schedules, dietary guidelines and when you can resume normal activities. Have a plan in place so you continue to heal properly once you’re back from your medical tour.

Following these steps will set you up for a successful medical tour experience in Asia. Do your research, find an excellent doctor and facility, and go in with realistic expectations about recovery to get the treatment you need at an affordable price.

FAQ: Common Questions About Medical Tourism in Asia

Medical tourism in Asia is booming, but you probably have a lot of questions before booking a trip for affordable, high-quality care. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about medical tourism in Asia.

How much does medical tourism actually cost?

Costs can vary widely depending on the procedure and destination, but you can expect to pay 30-80% less than in the U.S. or other Western nations for comparable care. For major surgeries, you could save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The lower cost of living and healthcare in Asia allows doctors and hospitals to charge much less.

Is the quality of care comparable?

Many facilities in Asia meet or exceed Western standards and are accredited by the same organizations as top U.S. hospitals. Doctors are often trained in Western medical schools and have decades of experience. Modern hospitals boast cutting-edge technology and high success rates. However, do thorough research to find a qualified doctor and hospital.

What procedures are most popular?

Some of the most common procedures for medical tourists in Asia include:

  • Cosmetic surgery like facelifts, liposuction, and tummy tucks
  • Dental work such as implants, crowns, and veneers
  • Orthopedic procedures including hip and knee replacements
  • Fertility treatments like IVF
  • Cardiac care such as bypass surgery
  • Weight loss surgeries including gastric bypass and gastric sleeve

How safe is medical tourism?

While any surgery comes with risks, medical tourism in reputable Asian hospitals is generally very safe. Look for hospitals accredited by Joint Commission International, Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program, or other organizations that monitor standards of care, staff credentials, and facility safety. Ask about success and complication rates for your specific procedure. Most destinations like Thailand, India, Singapore, and Malaysia have high standards for healthcare and many years of experience treating international patients.

What else should I consider?

Other things to keep in mind include travel requirements like passports and visas, recovery time needed for follow-up care, and tourism activities if you want to recover in a scenic destination. Many hospitals offer concierge services to help coordinate all logistical details of your medical tourism trip.

So there you have it, Asia is quickly becoming a top destination for medical tourism and with good reason. Between the competitive costs, high quality of care, and opportunity for a mini vacation, Asia has a lot to offer for those looking to save money on medical procedures. While the thought of traveling abroad for surgery may seem daunting, many hospitals catering to medical tourists have high standards of care and even have partnerships with hospitals in Western countries. The cost savings and benefits to your health and wallet may well be worth it. If you’ve been putting off a medical procedure due to the expense, consider looking into the option of medical tourism in Asia. Your bank account will thank you, and you’ll have an exciting trip to remember.

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Medical Tourism 2022: Asia-Pacific Potential

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  • November 2021
  • Region: Asia Pacific
  • Ian Youngman
  • ID: 5483752
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This Unique Analysis of Asia-Pacific Medical Tourism Looks Forward Rather Than Back as the Pandemic Changed the Rules of Engagement Forever

The winds of change are sweeping across Asia-Pacific medical tourism.

Some countries have taken stock and seek to increase inbound medical tourism while others are moving from increasing medical tourism numbers to increased revenue. Others have decided that wellness tourism is far more lucrative than medical tourism. Outbound medical tourism costs some countries millions of dollars in exchange revenue but produces revenue for others. China wants medical tourists to remain in Greater China rather than going elsewhere. The myth that Asian medical tourism destinations can target customers from the USA and Western Europe is fully busted. The reality is that medical tourists are from Asia, Eastern Europe and the Pacific.

This unique analysis of Asia-Pacific medical tourism looks forward rather than back as the pandemic changed the rules of engagement forever.

Medical tourism in 2022 and beyond will not be a restart of how it was left in 2019 and earlier as previous trends will not return. This report looks at the potential and future in the context of how Asian countries are improving healthcare. Medical tourism is too often looked at in isolation from mainstream tourism and ignoring vital information on local healthcare, compulsory health insurance and private health insurance.

The author is specialist analyst, researcher, writer and publisher who for the last 30 years has specialised in medical tourism, international healthcare and international health insurance. He offers a holistic view with profiles of leading Asia-Pacific countries.

A key section profiles 12 top existing and potential medical tourism destinations - for inbound and outbound.

Another section profiles another 12 leading medical tourism sources in the region. 

For those new to medical tourism there is background such as how published numbers can be misleading, the role of key accreditors and why people become medical tourists.

To keep the report affordable it is only available as a downloadable PDF with no advertising, no images, no graphs and a few simple tables.

Who are the reports for?

  • Professionals working in global healthcare markets 
  • Hospital and clinic groups operating internationally
  • International patient departments
  • Travel and medical travel agents
  • Banks and other financial institutions
  • Investors and private equity
  • International insurers
  • National government policy-makers
  • Travel and tourism organisations
  • Policy advisors
  • Think tanks
  • Management consultants
  • Asia-Pacific country prospects
  • New Zealand
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • Medical tourism numbers in
  • Reliability of numbers
  • Medical tourism numbers targets
  • Medical tourism visas
  • Where medical tourists come from
  • Why inbound medical tourists go there
  • Inbound medical tourism treatments
  • Hospitals and clinics in medical tourism
  • Target markets by country
  • Medical tourism promotion
  • Medical tourism financial incentives and grants
  • Medical tourism at airports and airlines
  • Medical tourism revenue
  • Medical tourism revenue targets
  • Domestic medical tourism
  • Medical tourism regulation
  • Medical tourism price regulation
  • Compulsory travel insurance for visitors
  • Promotional organisations
  • Tourist numbers
  • Local population 2021
  • Healthcare regulators
  • State health insurance
  • State health insurance top up
  • Compulsory health insurance
  • Medical tourism numbers out
  • Medical tourism outbound spending
  • Where medical tourists go
  • Why outbound medical tourists go abroad
  • Health insurers and medical tourism
  • These are countries NOT listed as existing or potential destinations
  • Population 2021
  • Introduction
  • History of medical tourism
  • Wellness and medical tourism
  • UNWTO definitions
  • Global figures on medical tourism
  • International patients
  • Why migration alters figures
  • Global medical tourism figures by country
  • Global medical tourism country figures illusions
  • International medical tourism
  • Regional medical tourism
  • Distribution
  • Agency requirements of hospitals
  • Direct chat
  • International medical accreditation
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Price comparisons
  • Price regulation
  • Smart phones
  • Why people become medical tourists
  • Defining medical tourists
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Diabetes treatment
  • Obesity treatment
  • Organ transplants
  • Medical tourism and insurance
  • ACHS International
  • Acreditas Global
  • Accreditation Canada
  • American Accreditation Commission International
  • American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities International
  • Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care
  • DNV-GL Healthcare
  • Global Clinic Rating
  • Global Healthcare Accreditation
  • Global Healthcare Travel Council
  • Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Programme
  • International Organisation for Standardisation
  • International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
  • International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery
  • International Society for Quality in Health Care
  • International Society for Quality in Health Care External Evaluation Organisation
  • Joint Commission International
  • KTQ International

A selection of companies mentioned in this report includes:

  • Accreditation Canada 
  • Global Healthcare Accreditation 

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Asia-Pacific Inbound Medical Tourism Market Outlook, 2028

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The rise of medical tourism in asia pacific.

medical tourism asia

October 2023

Medical tourism, a practice in which people travel abroad for medical care with better value or higher quality than in their home country, has gained significant popularity in recent years, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Currently valued at around USD 111.3 billion , Asia Pacific’s medical tourism market size is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 15 percent until 2028.

This strong growth trajectory is based on the region’s combination of advanced medical facilities, skilled healthcare professionals, and cost-effective treatment options—all of which serve to make Asia Pacific an attractive medical tourism hub. Countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, and Singapore are emerging as particular leaders in this domain, providing global visitors access to high-quality and innovative healthcare. Some of Asia Pacific’s territories also offer extensive and specialised elective medical treatment options, as exemplified by South Korea’s beauty sector.

In this article, we explore several of Asia Pacific’s popular medical tourism destinations and their key medical specialties, then taking a deeper look at current trends regarding medical tourism for elective procedures.

Medical tourism for essential treatments

The Asia Pacific region offers a variety of excellent options for medical tourism at different tiers of expense or areas of expertise, widening access to essential medical procedures and treatments. Highlights include:

With 1.22 million medical travellers in 2019 and a variety of accolades including “Health and Medical Tourism: Destination of the Year” at the 2020 International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) Medical Travel Awards, Malaysia has emerged as a prominent global hub for medical tourism. The country’s ability to provide exceptional healthcare services at cost-effective rates has been a major draw for international patients, particularly those from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia.

Malaysia offers a diverse range of medical services encompassing various specialties, including cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics, fertility treatments, cosmetic surgery, and dentistry. Among these various services, Malaysia is well-known for its cardiology and fertility treatments, boasting over 33 advanced heart treatment centres, including the renowned National Heart Institute.

To enhance the experience of the growing number of medical tourists seeking high-quality care, the National Heart Institute has established its International Patient Centre (IPC). The IPC provides comprehensive services, including visa and immigration assistance, pre-departure and post-treatment coordination, secure transfer of health data, and insurance claims facilitation. Moreover, the IPC has expanded its reach by establishing liaison offices in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia, further promoting Malaysia as the premier destination for medical tourism.

Malaysia’s commitment to excellence in healthcare, combined with its strategic initiatives for catering to the needs of international patients, has solidified its position as a leading destination for medical travellers seeking world-class medical treatments and a seamless healthcare experience.

Thailand has consistently demonstrated its prominence in the field of medical tourism, securing a spot among the top five markets for Destination Attractiveness and Medical Tourism Cost factors in the Medical Tourism Index (MTI) 2020-2021 Global Destination ranking. Renowned for its exceptional healthcare offerings, Thailand’s industry is experiencing a robust growth trajectory, with projections indicating a significant post-pandemic rebound in 2023. According to estimations by Siam Commerce Bank’s Economic Intelligence Center (SCB EIC), the Thai medical tourism market is expected to surpass its 2019 figure this year, reaching a valuation of THB 2 billion (USD 55.2 million).

Thailand’s robust medical tourism growth has been fuelled by its competitive advantage regarding affordable medical expenses. With healthcare costs in Thai hospitals averaging 50-80 percent lower than in the United States, Canada, and the EU, the country presents an appealing proposition for tourists seeking medical treatment. At the same time, Thailand’s services are also very high-quality. Thailand houses the biggest private hospital in Asia, which was also the first Asian hospital to receive ISO 9001 certification and approval from Joint Commission International (JCI), important quality benchmarks. 37 top private institutions have also now received JCI accreditation.

Thailand also differentiates itself as a leading medical tourism destination by offering a wide variety of medical services and procedures that are not commonly provided in other countries. These offerings include cosmetic surgery, gender reassignment surgeries, regenerative medicine, and stem cell therapies. Serving as a leader in pioneering treatments, Thailand provides these specialised services in state-of-the-art centres equipped with cutting-edge expertise and facilities.

Medical tourism in Japan is currently undergoing a significant transformation. The nation previously launched a plan to establish itself as a premier Asian medical care destination by 2020, with an ambitious goal of attracting around 430,000 international patients annually, though these aims were curtailed by the pandemic. With the pandemic subsided, Japan is now working again to promote its burgeoning medical tourism sector.

The country’s healthcare system ranks among the most advanced and sophisticated globally, offering renowned expertise and state-of-the-art technology across various medical fields. Notably, oncology treatments and cardiovascular procedures have become particularly attractive to overseas patients, thanks to Japan’s specialisation in heavy particle radiotherapy, regenerative medicine, and robot-assisted surgeries.

To support its medical tourism industry, the Japanese government has implemented several policies. Of notable mention is the introduction of medical visas in 2011, allowing visitors to access treatment, health check-ups, and opportunities for sightseeing, thus rendering Japan an alluring destination for medical tourists.

These endeavours, coupled with Japan’s renown for cutting-edge treatments, cleanliness, and advanced medical technologies, firmly position the nation as a formidable contender in the global medical tourism industry in the coming years.

According to the World Health Organisation, Singapore’s highly efficient healthcare system has ranked it as one of the top systems in Asia and the sixth globally, making it an attractive destination for cutting-edge medical tourism.

Indonesia is the leading source market for Singapore’s medical tourism, accounting for approximately 60 percent of the market share, followed closely by Malaysia and China. Singapore’s dominance in this sector is supported by a range of policies aimed at simplifying and enhancing the medical tourism experience for international patients.

In addition to continuously streamlining visa procedures for inbound medical seekers, Singapore offers a diverse array of wellness and post-treatment activities, including luxurious accommodations, spas, and cultural experiences, all thoughtfully tailored to meet the unique needs of medical tourists.

Singapore has also established International Patient Service Centres (IPSCs) that function as specialised “medical travel agencies.” These IPSCs are intricately linked to hospitals and serve as dedicated resources for medical tourists and expatriate patients, providing information, assistance, hospital pricing, and coordination of appointments with healthcare providers.

Singapore will remain a popular medical destination for wealthy patients from neighbouring Asian countries, including China, Indonesia, and India, even though it faces competition from Malaysia and Thailand, nearby destinations that can provide more affordable costs for healthcare, travel, and accommodations.

Medical tourism for elective treatments

Medical tourism in South Korea has developed into a booming industry in recent years, though with a unique slant oriented toward elective treatments to enhance physical beauty. In a country that places great cultural value on personal appearance, these procedures include not only plastic surgery, which makes up the bulk of the medical tourism industry, but also hair transplants, dermatology, optometry, and dentistry.

An economic downturn in 2007 left South Korea with an oversupply of doctors specialising in the cosmetic field. The intense competition pushed prices down and medical tourists from abroad became crucial in replenishing its customer base. The South Korean government pledged its support to the medical tourism industry, deeming it a focus area for growth—one of the country’s “strategic products”. It supported this goal by providing tax breaks and officially certifying selected medical tourism agencies. Currently, even non-Korean passport holders can benefit from tax refunds for cosmetic surgeries performed on Korean soil.

According to visitkorea.or.kr, South Korea represents 25 percent of the global medical beauty market, with many hospitals boasting state-of-the-art robotic technology to perform surgeries, and 3D modelling systems to visualise the final result. The country often attracts foreign tourists, especially influencers, that are chasing “K-beauty”, leading South Korea to earn itself a reputation as the “plastic surgery capital of the world”.

According to the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, the number of medical tourists visiting South Korea grew eightfold in ten years—from 60,000 in 2009 to nearly half a million in 2019. Foreign patients now make up almost half of all plastic surgeries performed in South Korea. A quick internet search brings up a plethora of medical tourism service providers that can assist prospective medical tourists along every single step of their journey—from pre-visit consultation at a hospital to assistance with medical visas, airport pickups, translation services, hotel bookings, and pampering services to help patients recover from their surgeries. Some medical tourism packages incorporate sightseeing or shopping tours after patients have recovered.

Ultimately, with signature procedures such as jawline surgery, South Korea has positioned itself as a true leader in this specialised industry and is currently benefiting from medical tourism as an important source of revenue for its economy.

Looking ahead

MNCs are well advised to monitor the growth of medical tourism in markets across the Asia Pacific region, where increasing scale and growing demand for innovative products and therapies promise significant opportunities in the coming years. As these territories continue to specialise in specific therapeutic areas or particular procedures, firms with relevant expertise stand to benefit greatly through greater engagement with diverse stakeholders and effective communication strategies.

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The Rise of Medical Tourism in Asia Pacific

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Thailand top destination for medical tourists

Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, can feel like a shopping mall or five-star hotel. It offers 21 VIP suites and the mezzanine has a McDonald’s. On the floor below, people line up to buy lattes and Americanos from a Starbucks.

Sitting nearby with coffees, a father and son from Oman silently faced each other in the lobby. They had been in Bangkok for 50 days already, travelling to Thailand to seek treatment for the father’s prostate cancer.

“Some friends at home told us about this hospital,” said the son, declining to give their names. “They said it is very good.”

The largest private hospital in Southeast Asia, Bumrungrad is the unofficial leader of medical tourism in Thailand, itself the most popular destination for medical travellers in the world, though accurate data on this fast-growing industry remain elusive.

The Ministry of Public Health claimed Thailand received 2.5 million medical tourists last year, but medical tourism directories, like Novasans.com, consider the true number to be fewer than 700 000 patients.

Singapore and India are the next leading destinations, but data for these countries are also unclear, say industry analysts. Together these three countries account for an estimated 80% of the global medical tourism market, and Thailand alone for about 40%.

“Why is Thailand so popular? It’s because of the Thai health care system. It’s advanced and affordable, and these are the two most important criteria for would-be medical tourists,” said Adele Kulyk, CEO of Saskatchewan-based Global Healthcare Connections Inc., an agency that arranges patient travel to Asia and Central America.

Assessing its own credentials as an international medical hub in late 2010, the Thai government noted it led its Asian competitors on service, matched India on cost and Singapore on quality of staff, but fell short on medical hardware compared to nearby Singapore.

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Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok is the largest private hospital in Southeast Asia and the unofficial leader of medical tourism in Thailand.

Thailand and Singapore each had 13 hospitals accredited by Joint Commission International, an organization that promotes rigorous standards of care in more than 90 countries. In 2002, Bumrungrad became the first hospital in Asia to meet the standard. Over the past three years, 17 more Thai facilities received the endorsement, compared to Singapore’s nine.

Cost is where Thailand really excels, though, said Kulyk. For heart bypass surgery, Bumrungrad offers a package including a week’s stay for around $19 000, according to its website, compared to at least US$80 000 in the US for a patient without health insurance.

Although heart surgery costs much less in Canada, wait times mean patients are increasingly seeking treatment overseas, said Kulyk, who started Global Healthcare Connections after a close friend died of cancer following a late diagnosis.

“Thailand isn’t as popular [with Canadians] as Mexico, the Cayman Islands, South Korea and other countries,” she said, citing the lengthy travel time. “But Thailand got a head-start on these others, so they’ve had a number of years to work very hard on this program and to understand the needs of the international traveler.”

Part of Thailand’s medical tourism success is due to its wider popularity as a holiday destination. Bangkok is expecting 16 million foreign visitors this year, more than any other city in the world. More than 900 000 of these are expected to seek medical care as ever larger numbers from across the globe experience Thai hospitals and clinics first-hand.

In the Middle East, Thailand’s reputation for quality health care is already well known, a side-effect of tragedy in the US. After 9/11, many people in Arab states stopped travelling to Europe and North America for treatment amid discrimination and visa problems and instead took the seven-hour flight in the other direction to Bangkok, said Kenneth Mays, Bumrungrad’s marketing director.

“Then it started really booming,” he said, as the number of Middle Eastern patients at the hospital soared 12-fold to 120 000 visitors per year in the decade after 9/11.

More recently, overseas delegations have toured Bumrungrad in a bid to emulate their model, but Mays said these visits have been stopped to retain competitive advantage.

“We found that, for example, [some groups] were touring our facility and taking pictures, measuring walls and going back and trying to create places to compete with us,” he said.

As the multibillion-dollar medical tourism market develops, other Asian countries are expected to remain Thailand’s main competitors with patients tipped to increasingly favour destinations closer to home, said Mays and Kulyk.

Meanwhile, India has announced a target of one million overseas patients by 2015. Singapore is also hoping to boost medical tourism. Soo Siew Keong, director of business development enrichment at the Singapore Tourism Board, said his office’s recent programs include a prototype ward with the Raffles Medical Group for Middle Eastern patients and a VISA partnership offering medical concierge services to visiting Indonesian cardholders.

“With additional private health care capacity coming on stream in the next few years, the [Singapore] industry has made efforts to reach out to key markets,” he said.

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Top 5 Medical Tourism Destinations in Asia 

March 15, 2021.

The medical tourism industry has been booming in Asia for quite a while now. In fact, some Asian countries are consistently on the lists for the most popular medical tourism destinations! The standard of care is phenomenal and these Asian destinations are beautiful places to recover from a medical procedure. Here are the top five medical tourism destinations in Asia!

The government in Thailand has placed a high focus on fostering their medical tourism market, and the work has certainly paid off. The “Land of Smiles” boasts an impressive medical tourism market, with 66 JCI accredited hospitals in the country. That’s the highest number of any country in Southeast Asia! The JCI, or Joint Commission International, accreditation is important because it indicates that a facility has achieved certain standards for safety and quality of care, two things that put the mind of a medical tourist at ease when choosing a facility for their procedure. The World Health Organization has called Thailand’s healthcare system “world class,” an impressive nod from an important group. Procedures Thailand is known for include breast implants, dental procedures, and gender reassignment surgeries. 

Long known as the best medical tourism destination in Southeast Asia (some say this title has been overtaken by Thailand, however), Singapore is an excellent choice for your medical tourism trip. While the cost of living is known to be quite high, the cost of healthcare in Singapore remains low – especially for those traveling from somewhere like the US. The patient experience in Singapore is unrivaled among Asian countries, with more than 15 hospitals dedicated entirely to medical tourists – staffed with English speaking doctors and well accustomed to foreign patients. Facilities in Singapore boast cutting edge technology and patients report high satisfaction rates. While the costs of procedures may be slightly higher than in surrounding countries like Thailand or Malaysia, patients willing to pay a little more (although still far less than they would at home!) for the best possible standards of care should consider making Singapore their medical tourism destination. Top procedures include hip and knee replacements, cardiac surgeries, fertility treatments, and cancer treatments. 

Along with Thailand and Singapore, India is one of the top three most popular medical tourism destinations in Asia. In fact, these three countries account for roughly 90% of Asia’s medical tourism market. India’s physicians and surgeons are highly trained in their practice and deliver quality care to international patients. Due to foreign investment in the industry, India’s medical tourism market is only going to grow. There are also many agencies that cater to medical tourists, helping to arrange everything from visas to accommodation to sightseeing. Patients traveling to India for medical care can expect to save up to 85% on their procedures. Alternative medicine, cardiac surgeries, bone-marrow transplants, and hip replacements are some of the most common procedures for medical tourists in India. 

An emerging medical tourism destination, Malaysia should be on your list of possible locations to take your medical tourism trip. The health ministry in Malaysia regulates the prices charged by private medical facilities, meaning the cost of care remains reasonable even at the best facilities. Malaysia is one of the top destinations for medical tourists coming from other Asian countries, who often travel there for low-cost routine screenings and checkups. Malaysia is also a popular medical tourism destination for Muslim patients, with physicians and surgeons who are familiar with Muslim customs and facilities offering Halal food and prayer rooms. There are a number of facilities in Malaysia that staff international doctors who speak English and European languages, and these facilities welcome thousands of international medical tourists every year. Cosmetic surgeries, weight loss surgeries, and orthopedic procedures are common for international patients in Malaysia. 

South Korea 

For patients seeking only cosmetic surgeries, South Korea is the perfect choice of medical tourism destination. Home to a robust beauty industry and hundreds of beauty clinics, it should be no surprise that the cosmetic surgery market in South Korea is also among the very best. The South Korean government is very welcoming to medical tourists, having built facilities for international patients and making it easy to obtain visas for visitors coming to receive medical care. The medical technology in South Korea is also internationally regarded as some of the best — robotic surgery technology is currently in development! The most popular procedures for international patients include all kinds of cosmetic and plastic surgery. 

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You might also  be  interested  in: Medical Tourism Trends for 2021 

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Medical Tourism in Asia-Pacific Growing Rapidly

medical tourism asia

A Thai cardiologist (L) checks a Norwegian patient at a cardiology ward of a hospital in Bangkok. Thailand, which has perhaps the most advanced medical tourism sector, saw 3.5 million foreign patients spending over 4 billion euros on health care in 2016.

Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing region in the global medtech market. This growth is fueled by public health care reforms, but even more so by the rapidly expanding private sector and with medical tourism, a connection not often made when the booming medtech market is talked about.

In most Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries, medical tourism represents a third or more of private hospital revenues. With every country looking to extract a piece of this pie, competition between countries and hospitals is intensifying.

How Big is Medical Tourism?

In 2016, between 105 and 120 million medical tourists traveled abroad to seek health care services. This number is expected to grow by 10-14 percent annually in the coming three years. Worldwide medical tourism generated 150 billion euros ($177 billion) in 2016 and is expected to grow to 200 billion euros by 2020.

The Southeast Asian health care market is expanding faster than in other regions, especially driven by the private sector and, notably, medical tourism. Foreign patients are a major revenue generator for private hospitals in the region. Their share represents 40-55 percent of the private hospitals’ revenue in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and especially Thailand. In India, medical tourism accounts for 25 percent of revenue, and in the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan, it accounts for 10-15 percent of revenue.

In 2016, the medical tourism sector in Asia-Pacific accounted for 10 million patients and 15-17 billion euros in revenues. For instance, India attracted more than 4 million medical tourists in 2016, generating around 4 billion euros in health care revenues. Similarly, in Thailand, which has perhaps the most advanced medical tourism sector, 3.5 million foreign patients spent more than 4 billion euros on health care in 2016. In Singapore, medical tourism accounted for almost 1.6 billion euros with close to 900,000 patients in 2016.

The sector will continue to grow 15-17 percent annually for the coming three years.

Impact of Medical Tourism on Medtech

Due to fierce competition, private hospitals in the region regularly upgrade facilities and increase capacity. Recently, the sector has started attracting more international hospital groups and investors seeking to enter this lucrative market.

Countries seeking to develop medical tourism are teaming up with large multinational players (for example, Mayo Clinic with Raffles Medical Group in Singapore, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, John Hopkins Singapore and Anadolo Medical Center in Turkey). While increasing competition between the care providers is leading to differentiating investments and services, it is also leading to increased cost pressure and dilution in quality of health care.

The growth of medical tourism in Southeast Asia obviously impacts the medtech market segment. Southeast Asia and India together represent more than 50 billion euros , or more than 10 percent of the global medtech market, and are growing faster (7.5 percent) than any other region in the world.

Market dynamics in the health care tourism segment impact the providers of medical equipment and devices in terms of product offerings and customer services. It also creates new opportunities for global as well as local medtech companies. With recent trends, there has been a shift to more day-care and ambulatory procedures in order to deal with staff shortages and cost-effectiveness.

There is also an increased need for telemedicine and e-health to improve the continuum of care. In recent times, medtech companies have increased group purchasing  and central warehousing and are also offering innovative IT-based and value-chain solutions to improve or defend their competitive advantage. They are also shifting from product-focused offerings to customized value-based solutions.

What Fuels Medical Tourism in Southeast Asia?

There are a variety of reasons why the medical tourism market has taken off in the region and continues to grow.

Push Factors

Wealthy patients in emerging countries seek high-quality care in high-standard settings, which medical tourism destinations can offer. Middle-class and underinsured patients in developed countries feel disenfranchised by their national health care systems, which are often plagued by long waiting times for treatments. They shop outside the organized medical system to find services that are affordable, timely or simply available.

Healthcare insurers motivate patients to seek more cost-effective medical provisions outside their home countries, and the usually lower cost of medical treatment in medical tourism destinations is an obvious attraction.

Moreover, national health insurance in developed countries does not typically cover some types of care, such as cosmetic surgery and dental care.

Pull Factors

Triggered by the opportunities of medical tourism, governments actively promote their countries and hospitals for patients shopping for health care services. Health care providers deploy referral systems to attract patients, and service companies offer innovative products to guide patients in their choice of country and hospital. To meet this demand, entrepreneurs are building technologically advanced facilities using foreign and domestic capital. They are hiring physicians, technicians and nurses trained to international standards, and where qualified personnel are not available locally, they are recruiting expatriates. Additionally, new service providers in these markets are also offering state-of-the-art health care technology for patients.

The increasing affordability of international air fares for intercontinental travel has also played a role in supporting the growth of the regional medical tourism market.

Finally, many nations in the region regard medical tourism as a resource for economic development; for instance, the ministries of Tourism in Thailand, Malaysia and India have been aggressively and fiercely promoting medical tourism in their countries. In the same vein, private hospital chains and investors perceive medical tourism in Asia-Pacific as an attractive business opportunity and invest in infrastructure, equipment, staff and services.

Primary Challenges

The market is not without its challenges. Chief among them are:

Political stability. Political stability is a requisite to draw any international tourists, irrespective of whether they are traveling for leisure or medical treatment. For instance, political unrest in Thailand and in some Malaysian provinces had an impact, albeit temporary, on medical tourism in these countries.  

Staff shortage. The volume of adequately trained clinical staff (doctors and nurses) can hardly keep up with the growing numbers of medical tourists and the level and quality of care they expect. Hospitals hire physicians abroad or collaborate with western hospitals to deal with the shortage. At the same time, they review their operational processes and invest in equipment and solutions that impact the productivity of the hospital.

Competitiveness and cost pressure. The increasing number of hospitals and investors offering global health care services creates in competition between countries, often resulting in price wars that can potentially dilute the quality of health care provided.

The medical tourism market in ASEAN is in the midst of a boom, and this is impacting the medtech market, among others. For stakeholders that can mitigate these and other operational challenges, the opportunity is abundant. Much of their success, however, will depend on how governments and the private sector can work together to create a conducive medical tourism ecosystem.

A sequel to this piece will focus on the specificities for the main countries and the consequences for the medtech industry, including product offering, distribution strategies, purchase and decision processes, among others.

Bart Van den Mooter

Bart is the CEO and founder of TforG and works closely together with over 50 global companies such as Abbott, Baxter, GE, J&J, Medtronic, Philips, Stryker and Covidien.

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The lure of medical tourism in asia.

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Would you travel across the globe for a heart bypass if it will only cost you a tenth of the usual US $122000?

The concept of medical tourism started thousands of years ago. People have been traveling across the continents in search of cures for any imaginable illnesses and making therapeutic trips for health wellness. In ancient Greece pilgrims and patients came from all over the Mediterranean to the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios at Epidaurus and from the 18th century wealthy Europeans have been traveling to spas from Germany to the Nile.

In recent years medical tourism is becoming more popular with patients seeking treatment for health and well-being purposes abroad.Why Are People Traveling?If you can get your ailing heart cured or get your flat-nose fixed at home why bother to travel across the globe for medical treatment?Patients seeking treatment abroad are motivated to do so by various reasons. Many are attracted by the low cost factor or they are simply dissatisfied with the existing medical care in their home country.

Frustrated by the long waiting times inadequate medical care and exorbitant medical expenses many go abroad in search of medical care. The steep medical costs in America have contributed to many Americans flying to other countries in search of cheaper alternatives. According to the Census Bureau as many as 46.6 million Americans were uninsured in 2005. As these uninsured Americans are not able to afford the costly medical care many will jump at the opportunity of getting treatment abroad at a fraction of the price at home.

In the UK it is not uncommon to hear patients grumbling from having to wait for as long as six months to get treated by the public health service due to the system being too stretched to cater to everyone. Otherwise they will have to opt for private health services which is very expensive.The Guardian wrote a classic case example on the medical care hiccups in Britain. George Marshall a violin repairer from Bradford was diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

He was told that he could either wait for up to six months for a heart bypass operation on the National Health Service or pay $38000 to go under the scalpel immediately. He chose to outsource his operation to India instead. He went for an operation at the Wockhardt Hospital and Heart Institute and paid only $9763.24 for surgery including travel expenses. Research and studies have shown support on the increasing trend in medical tourism.

Dr Arnold Milsein medical director of the United States based medical group Pacific Business Group told a U.S. Special Committee on Ageing in 2006 that the typical combined hospital and doctors charges for operations in technologically advanced hospitals in lower-wage countries such as Thailand were 60 to 85 percent lower than charges in the US hospitals.

An independent survey on medical tourism prices in 2006 by European Research Specialists commissioned compiled data from 108 clinics hospitals and healthcare providers in 30 countries. Research revealed that patients from UK can save up to 80 percent by going overseas for surgery and medical treatment. Medical Tourism Takes off the RunwayMedical tourism is made possible and has gained popularity due to the advancement in medical technology more affordable travel and the availability of information provided by the mass media.

As medical costs accelerate patients are finding alternatives for low-cost treatment and going abroad to get healthy seems very appealing. Lured by the promise of high quality reliable medical care at a lower cost patients are flying across the globe for medical treatment that they otherwise would not have access to easily due to prohibitive costs long waiting time or unavailability of treatment in their home country.

The promise of medical care and the attraction of exotic places are taking people places for medical care. First World Treatment at Third World Prices International patients are flocking to Asia for elective and cosmetic procedures an increasing pool of patients are getting their ailing heart fixed or have hip replaced in countries such as Singapore and India.Choices are also not limited to medicine or western treatment there are growing interests in alternative medicine providing holistic therapy to patients.

Alternative medicine such as Ayurveda acupuncture osteopathy chiropractic and homeopathy etc. are gaining popularity among medical tourists. Countries such as China and India are promoting alternative medicine to international patients searching for holistic cures.Hospitals in Asia are carving out an outstanding reputation for themselves drawing overseas patients with top-notch doctors low cost high-tech equipments and high quality patient care. Countries such as Thailand Singapore India Philippines South Korea and Malaysia see a combined 1.3 million tourists each year for medical treatment.

This move is expected to contribute at least US $4 billion by 2012 to the Asia medical tourism industry and US $40 billion globally.Experience Asias BestAmazing ThailandThailand better known among foreigners as a popular destination for leisure tourism has earned for itself a name in the medical tourism industry. The Thai government is quick in realizing and identifying the great opportunities that medical tourism will bring.

They have made significant inroads as an early investor in medical tourism with strong support from the healthcare institutions in the country making Thailand into one of the leading medical tourist destination in Asia. The medical tourism industry is expected to attract two million medical tourists into Thailand by 2012.Hundreds of hospitals and clinics catering to foreigners are establishing themselves across the country like mushrooms on a rainy day.

They offer everything from dentistry and cosmetic surgery to heart operations and sex change procedures to preventive care and health treatment.Catering to the alternative medicine market Tria the new kid on the block introduced into the market by the Piyavate Hospital is a specialist spa promising to bring wellness to a new level. Equipped with the latest in modern science combined with homeopathic and other treatments to provide preventive care and health treatments the four storey complex boasts 19 consultation rooms four detoxification rooms and two colonic-hydrotherapy rooms.

Incredible IndiaMedical tourism is not new to India  housing some of the worlds best medical care providers that are equipped with technological sophistication and infrastructure India drew an estimated 150000 overseas patients last year. Coupled with its vast experience in dealing with overseas patients medical tourists have no qualms about traveling to India to receive medical treatment.

The Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre ranks as having the best cardiac hospital in India. Equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment the 332-bed Institute has nine operating rooms and carries out nearly 15000 procedures every year. The Wockhardt Hospitals Group has an association with Harvard Medical International the global arm of the Harvard Medical School and is the first super specialty hospital in South Asia to achieve accreditation from Joint Commission International (JCI) USA.

This established Group has a chain of super specialty hospitals such as Wockhardt Brain & Spine Hospital Wockhardt Hip Resurfacing Centre and Wockhardt Liver & Kidney Institute Kolkatta catering to specific needs of their patients.Uniquely SingaporeSingaporeMedicine a multi-agency government initiative aims at developing Singapore into one of Asias leading destinations for international patients.

Looking at the visibility that Singapore has gained as a top destination for medical travelers Singapore Medicine is fast on its way to achieving this objective. Through their aggressive campaigns Singapore is expected to attract over one million foreign patients annually by 2012.Singapores efforts in promoting medical tourism have shown success. According to recent reports Parkway Group Healthcare received 170 Russian patients last year with average bill between $10000 and $60000 for each patient and Raffles Hospital for example boasted a 36 percent of its occupancy by foreign patients.

WOW PhilippinesThe Philippines has also jumped on the medical tourism bandwagon. It has become so popular and successful in driving its medical tourism effort officially known as the Philippine Medical Tourism Program (PMPT) that the countrys medical directors and government officials met in California in May this year to discuss the health tourism industry and how to effectively promote it.Prominent hospitals like St. Lukes Medical Center Asian Hospital and Medical Centre and Philippine Heart Centre etc. are active participants and advocates for this program.

Jade del Mundo Health Undersecretary of the Philippines said that a total of 200000 foreigners came to the Philippines for medical treatment such as cosmetic surgery and eye or dental treatments. He said that the bustling medical tourism program of the Philippines is expected to contribute between US $300 million and US $400 million next year. The Philippines health department estimates as much as US $200 million has been generated from medical tourism alone.

Medical Tourism Whetting AppetitesThe spurt in the industry has created a vacuum that is quickly being filled with organizations or professionals eager to capture a share of the pie. Everyone from finance insurance travel hospitality as well as health professionals who have seen the potential of this industry with its growing audience are looking for opportunities to fill in the gap in the medical tourism puzzle.Though many are eager to be the right pieces in the puzzle many are still struggling to get the right fit.

There are a number of concerns and risk factors for patients getting treatment much less seeking them abroad. Some additional concerns for patients include a consistent quality of care lack of extensive dialog between the patient and the doctor lack of post-op follow up cultural differences and difficulty in obtaining sufficient insurance coverage.As this industry is driven by patients or travelers who become patients it will be interesting to see whether the industry will meet their expectations.

Medical Tourism  The Other Side of the StoryMuch have been said and claimed about the surging medical tourism industry and how its players are benefiting from it however not much is known about the other side of the story  the patients themselves.The Medical TouristThere are many testimonies supporting the claim of quality medical care and low cost expenses by those who have been there and done that however what about the potential medical tourists.

Where can they find quality information on the services provided abroad? How do they know whos good and whos not. Although there are a few indisputable medical centers who have already carved their name in the industry there are a great many more that are less well known. Should this have a bearing on whether they are capable of providing quality healthcare?Take for example India there are thousands of hospitals sprawling across the country.

Some have already been identified as the place to go for medical treatment however there are still many that are below the radar. The richer hospitals are able to afford to provide patients with the luxury of five star accommodation and service with equally advanced treatments and services but the hospitals that are less well funded are only able to provide medical care minus the other peripherals. So how do the medical tourists choose?

Medical Tourism Riding on the WavesThe term and concept of modern medical tourism may have been around for the last decade but it is still in its infancy stage. There are many challenges and obstacles ahead as with any burgeoning industry. There are a few players who are already paving the way and leading from the front but there is significantly more who are jumping onto the bandwagon.

It is crucial that in this race to be the best and offer the most the travelers/patients do not get marginalized in the industry. Continuous training for healthcare workers to ensure consistent quality of care is essential as is consistency in the service that a patient receives before and after deciding on their doctor or the medical centre where they will be receiving treatment.

Medical referrers and those providing concierge services need to have a strict understanding of the quality of medical care provided by those that they are affiliated with and ensure that that information as well as the risks is clearly brought across to the travelers.Each player must play their part in ensuring that the medical tourism industry will continue to grow and benefit those that are in it  both patients and providers.

‍ Both Authors work for Avail Corporation which had put on a conference called International Medical Travel Conference (www.MedicalTravelconference.com) in November 2007 at Manila Philippines.

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The Medical Tourism Magazine (MTM), known as the “voice” of the medical tourism industry, provides members and key industry experts with the opportunity to share important developments, initiatives, themes, topics and trends that make the medical tourism industry the booming market it is today.


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