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Top medical tourism destinations in Asia

December 02, 2019

Although there are pros and cons of medical tourism, many people choose to get one. Let’s take a look at top places for medical tourism in Asian countries.

With plenty of sandy beaches, award-winning restaurants and amazing health care services, Asia is becoming a top destination for medical wellness tourism. Tourists are looking for medical tourism vacations in Thailand, Malaysia and other countries in Asia as they offer cheap prices, cutting-edge equipment and well developed infrastructure.

Best countries for medical tourism in Asia

There are some popular destinations for medical tourism in this continent, including South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and India.

#1: Singapore

Singapore is well known to be the most expensive city in the world where the cost of living is 30 percent higher than NewYork. So you might be surprised to know that a lot of patients choose Singapore to take their medical tourism in Asia. And it can also surprise you to learn that medical care in Singapore isn’t too expensive.

In particular, a knee replacement costs about US$53,000 in the United States, but patients only have to pay around US$13,000 for that procedure in Singapore. However, surgery in Singapore is more expensive than other medical travel destinations in Asia such as Malaysia and Thailand. But Singapore is unbeatable when it comes to exceptional yet not too expensive standard of care in a developed nation.

Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world/ Ph: Pexels

Singapore has more than 15 hospitals for the needs of medical tourists. All the doctors can speak English so foreign patients don’t have to worry about the language barrier. In addition to that, facilities are modern and equipped with cutting-edge technology, so that patients will be comfortable, safe and guaranteed proven medical results.

For medical tourists going abroad for medical treatment for the first time, Singapore is an ideal destination. Patients will feel more at home, unlike in India or Thailand. Also, in this country, English is widely spoken and city infrastructure is orderly. Therefore, medical tourists will feel more at ease during their visit.

#2: South Korea

For those who seek serious treatment, they tend to come to Singapore and India. South Korea, on the other hand, is the destination that patients in search of cosmetic procedures choose. This East Asian country is one of the top places for medical tourism in Asia, particularly for plastic surgery. The country even invented an operational technique called tip plasty. If a patient get a plastic surgery done with this technique, the size and shape of the tip of their nose will be surgically altered.

The fact that among Asian countries, South Korea is a leader in all sorts of technology. A lot of medical tourists who come to South Korea are satisfied with their ability to record patient information within an electronic medical records system. Taking advantage of computerized health records, the system can reduce paperwork and patient information is ensured to be easily accessible. Especially when the patient is under anesthetic, it is still easy to access.

Aside from that, this country is also developing medical technology in robotic surgery. This method is likely to attract more patients from abroad coming to South Korea in the future. There is no surprise that the development of technique in this country plays an important part in the growth of medical tourism in Asia. Medical tourism is also promoted by the government of South Korea. They are building more international health centers, and if visitors are coming to the country for the primary purpose of a medical procedure, they will be offering them a special visa.

#3: Thailand

Thailand has taken Singapore’s title for being the capital of Southeast Asian medical tourism. According to statistics in 2013, more than 1.2 million patients visited Thailand for medical tourism treatments. Not only does it support the tourism industry, but also brings the country hundreds of billions of Thai Baht every year.

Medical tourists choose Thailand because it is cheap
Medical tourists choose Thailand because it is cheap/ Ph: Pexels

Moreover, Thailand’s government are interested in hospital accreditation. To assure safety and professionalism, patients can choose from 33 clinics and hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International. This is a global group that reserves its seal of approval for health care centers. One that is accredited by the Joint Commission International means that they are safe, meet multiple quality benchmarks, and have strong records of patient success and satisfaction. Thailand’s health care facilities are even recognized by the World Health Organization as “world class,” so patients should not be worried about safety when they choose Thailand for their medical tourism holidays.

Similar to most medical tourists travelling abroad for medical treatment, a lot of people choose Thailand for a medical procedure because of the cost. Compared to the United States, the price of a hip replacement surgery in Bangkok is just around half the cost. In addition, other procedures offer a similarly low price point. More importantly, it is easy to get to Thailand thanks to Bangkok airport’s plethora of cheap flight options to and from plenty of cities around Asia and around the world.

#4: India

Singapore, Thailand and India are 3 big names when it comes to top destinations for medical tourism. These three hold 90 percent of Asia’s medical tourism industry. As one of the “big three,” India has accrued foreign support and investment. The nation’s private health care system and hospitals that cater to medical tourists have got the money to be able to purchase necessary equipment and many have received JCI accreditation.

Aside from that, India has promoted its physicians and surgeons. They are not only world class but also trained internally through its medical universities and research centers. By using internal talent at top medical tourism facilities, they can keep the costs low in order to attract more medical visitors around the world. It is estimated that patients can save up to 85 percent on surgical procedures when they visit India. However, it doesn’t mean that they can’t ensure a qualified health care professional with knowledge of international medical practices. In fact, they can potentially provide a range of languages.

India is expected to become a leader in medical tourism not only across Asia but also  around the globe in the near future. The main reason is because of the cost effectiveness of care within the country. Even compared to another cheap destination like Thailand, surgery in India can cost as much as US$2,000 less. Also, India is one of those nations that keen to increase their medical tourism industries, the country promotes agencies that assist patients in every step of their journey. For example, they will be helping them arrange itineraries, visas, local transportation and even sightseeing options for family members who accompany the patients.

#5: Malaysia

Malaysia is becoming a more popular destination for medical tourists recently. It is an ideal place for patients who are interested in both Eastern and Western medicine. Coming to Malaysia, medical tourists will find a lot of alternative clinics designed for international visitors, but qualified health care professionals to provide herbology, acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese and Southeast Asian medicine.

Malaysia is becoming a top destination for medical tourism
Malaysia is becoming a top destination for medical tourism/ Ph: Pexels

Since 2010, thanks to the country’s low cost of care and availability of well-trained, international staff, the number of medical tourists in Malaysia has more than doubled since 2010. Similar to Singapore, many of their staff speak English as a near-native tongue. They may be even trained in other European languages too. More importantly, Malaysian physicians and surgeons understand Muslim customs well. As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons that makes Malaysia the go-to country for medical tourists so fast is because their main food is Halal and they also have prayer rooms available.

The most popular health service that patients seek in Malaysia at the moment is a routine check-up and screening. As the country is developing its medical tourism infrastructure, more and more patients are expected to come here for surgery as they are much cheaper than in Singapore or Thailand.

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Why is Malaysia an emerging global giant in medical tourism?

Malaysia’s health tourism industry has grown quickly from 643,000 medical tourist arrivals in 2011 to over 1.2 million in 2018. There is no surprise that it will become a leading global destination for international patients in Asia in the near future. The revenue has also increased from USD 127 million in 2011 to over $362 million in 2018. So what are the factors that contribute to the phenomenal growth in Malaysia? Firstly, there is solid governmental participation as well as formidable public-private healthcare collaboration. Also, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) has been promoting Malaysia as a medical tourism destination by revamping its international healthcare brand.

What is the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC)?

The MHTC is an agency under the Ministry of Finance in Malaysia. Its purpose is to actively expand the country’s medical tourism market base and help target more international patients. At the moment, the main sources of medical tourism arrivals to Malaysia are tourists from the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States. That is considered to be quite successful, however, the MHTC is still looking for medical tourists from countries in the Middle East and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Malaysian physicians understand Muslim customs well
Malaysian physicians understand Muslim customs well/ Ph: Pexels

At the moment, there are 79 hospitals that the MHTC is promoting to countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei, and Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman. Apart from promoting its healthcare brand to other countries, they have also tried boosting healthcare quality, affordability, and superior patient experience. As a result, a compound annual growth rate has been 16 to 17 percent over the last five years while the global average is 10-12 percent.

According to the MHTC, there are more than two million international patients visiting Malaysia by 2020, doubling its revenue to around USD 680 million. At the moment, Malaysia can compete with the giants of the ASEAN medical tourism industry, including Thailand and Singapore. In fact, it is slowly overtaking Singapore as a medical tourism destination but still has Thailand as its strong competitor. Only in 2017, Thailand had more than 2 million medical tourist arrivals into the country.

Malaysia is excellent in Cardiovascular Care and IVF

To be able to compete with world-class hospitals and medical centers around Asia, Malaysia is creating their opportunities in cardiology and fertility treatments. The country has more than 33 advanced heart treatment centers including the well known National Heart Institute. Also, its fertility centers are becoming successful, well ahead of the global average. In Asia, the National Heart Institute is still a leader in cardiovascular disease diagnosis and treatment. This national referral center for cardiovascular diseases provides world-class care for both simple and complex heart diseases.

The National Heart Institute is collaborating with medical centers of excellence across the world to harness its position in the Malaysian medical tourism market. Those medical centers include the Royal Papworth Hospital, Hanoi Heart Center in Vietnam, the leading heart and lung treatment center in the UK, and the University of Australia, Adelaide. The MHTC officials stated that the institute is equipped with Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies in order to improve diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases. In addition, Malaysia is projecting its excellence in cardiac care on the global healthcare stage with the help of advanced procedural techniques such as multi-slice computed tomography, heart-assist devices and endoscopic vein harvesting.

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Moreover, the National Health Institute has established its International Patient Center (IPC) to serve the growing number of their medical tourists who are looking for advanced care for cardiovascular diseases more efficiently. The IPC offers services, including visa and immigration services, transfer of health data, pre-departure and post-treatment coordination, and insurance claims to boost patient experience from departure to arrival.

The institute has successfully expanded its frontiers into other parts of Asia, with liaison offices in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia. With this phenomenal progress, the country is going to set itself apart as a destination of choice for healthcare travels in the global medical tourism market.

If you’re planning for medical tourism, make sure to discuss your insurance options to be covered for any scenario. Although one of the advantages of medical tourism is that it may be much cheaper, other fees can still add up quickly.

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