Medical Tourism Opportunity

Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Taiwanese authorities are taking the first steps to actively promote healthcare tourism in the country. Cabinet level bodies, including the Department of Health (DOH) and the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), met with 15 multinational insurance companies on April 17 to formulate ways to promote Taiwan as a medical destination. The council hopes these companies can use their international links to attract more foreigners to come to Taiwan for treatment.

A recent DOH survey done by the Taiwan Nongovernmental Hospitals and Clinics Association shows that many medical institutions are interested in developing and marketing their services to international clients. All hospitals surveyed expressed interest in providing general check ups and cosmetic surgery. Some expressed an interest in more specialised procedures such as transplants and knee replacements.

Abacus International, a UK-based health consultancy firm, reports Asia's growing medical tourism industry is expected to be worth approximately $4bn by 2012. Nearby Singapore and Thailand have been actively promoting medical tourism with Singapore expecting more than 500,000 medical tourists this year alone, a significant number compared to its population of 4.4m. Most of these tourists come from Malaysia and Indonesia. Some estimate that by 2012, Singapore will attract a million medical tourists, which could account for 1% of GDP, showing the sector's growth potential.

India is also a very popular destination for medical tourists, especially from English speaking countries. According to the Indian Industrial Association, the industry could be worth around $2bn by 2012.

The Taiwanese government has set up a task force to adopt steps to deregulate the industry and enable it to compete with other nations. The ministry of foreign affairs has said it is open to the idea of offering medical visas that could allow patients to stay in Taiwan for over six months, the current visa limit.

The standards of Taiwanese hospitals and health care industries are well regarded. The American Institute in Taiwan, which represents US interests in Taiwan because there are no formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, said physicians are "well trained" and "state of the art" medical equipment is often available. Meanwhile, the cost of medical treatments in Taiwan are relatively inexpensive. According to the CEPD, the cost of coronary heart bypass surgery in Taiwan is $4,849 for people who belong to the country's national health system. Even if this figure were doubled to take into account any extra costs incurred by foreign patients, it would still be 30 to 40% lower than in Singapore and around 80% lower than the same surgery in the US.

The CEPD said the industry should specifically target US and British health tourists. In the US, 47m people live without any medical insurance while another 30m have limited cover. In the UK, there are often long waiting lists for medical treatment. In both cases, Taiwan is counting on medical tourism to be an attractive option.

Jen-Ai Hospital was one of the first institutions in Taiwan to set up an international patients centre to help foreigners seeking treatment in the country with everything from scheduling appointments to handling documentation and providing interpreters. The centre has received over 2500 patients from over 40 countries.

English language skills and marketing are areas the CEPD has said need to be improved for this niche sector to grow. The council has recommended the DOH provide more training programs for doctors, particularly to learn and improve their English.

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