Combining medical treatment with a holiday in Malaysia has become popular with many overseas patients who are also attracted to the quick and efficient service, writes SHARON NG KOOI KIN
ANSWERING e-mails and telephone inquiries about the facilities in her establishment as well as airport transfers, rooms and meals are part of her routine. But Rusana Abdul Samad is not a hotel manager or a tour agency officer.
Instead, she is the manager of the marketing department at the National Heart Institute or Institut Jantung Negara (IJN).
The concept of medical tourism or health travel in Malaysia was mooted in 1997 when it was realized that seeking medical treatment can be combined with having a pleasant holiday too. In a global village where help is just a mouse click away, traveling to other countries for medical treatment is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to domestic health care.
Patients are attracted by quality medical facilities and highly trained expertise at competitive prices offered by other countries. It’s pleasant to get medical treatment away from inquisitive friends and relatives and then luxuriate in restful convalescence in a seaside or highland resort. A recent trend is currently seeing a reversed flow of medical patient traffic between some Asian countries and previously first choice medical centres in the USA or Europe.
Promoting Health Tourism
To promote the partnership of tourism and health, a committee was set up in 1997, comprising the Ministry of Health, the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) and Tourism Malaysia.
Since then, trade missions to countries in the Middle East and South-East Asia have brought an influx of foreign medical and dental health seekers to our country.
In line with Visit Malaysia Year 2007, a comprehensive Health Tourism program has been drawn up. Every month this year, either Tourism Malaysia or Matrade is involved in a foreign destination medical industry trade mission or health seminar.
In August, there is a Health Tourism Road Show to Indonesia and in October, a Healthcare Marketing Mission to Sri Lanka. Locally, there will be a Health Tourism Seminar in Johor Baru in July.
Malaysia has several advantages as a health tourism destination. In 2005, Canadian journalist Maxine George arrived with a large delegation from her country’s medical media. She returned home with a glowing assessment after visiting eight private hospitals in Kuala Lumpur.
She wrote: “Canadians are faced with long waiting times for specialist appointments, diagnostic testing and treatment or surgery. I learned that the facilities of these hospitals (in Malaysia) are only 60 to 80 per cent utilized. Therefore there are no waiting lists.
Arrangements can be made for immediate hospitalization on arrival. This makes the Malaysian healthcare system very attractive to Canadians whose average waiting time in their own country is 16 to 40 weeks.”
According to George, most of our hospitals boast state-of-the-art medical equipment like 64-slice CT scanners and pill capsule endoscopy that produces 55,000 images in one swallow! Complete computerization of entire hospital systems and global conferencing has helped to enhance and speed up diagnosis and treatment.
National Heart Institute
Higher end private medical centres may be out of reach for the average Malaysian or patients from poorer Asian and African countries but there is one quasi government hospital in Kuala Lumpur (and its branch in Penang) that offers first class medical treatment at attractive prices.
The National Heart Institute or Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) specializes in cardiovascular and thoracic cases. Five per cent of its patients are from foreign countries like the Middle East countries, Indonesia and Pakistan.
In 2000, off-pump beating heart surgery was performed for the first time there. From 2001 to 2003, IJN successfully installed the cardiac resynchronization pacemaker with ICD, implanted Drug Eluting Stent, carried out stem cell transplantation and successfully performed endoscopic harvest of vein and artery for coronary bypass.
The latter procedure relieves the heart patient from the double agony of recuperating from a painful chest wound as well as the long incision in the leg to harvest a vein for the bypass.
In 2004, IJN was the first in Southeast Asia to perform coronary bypass on ‘awake’ or conscious patients without general anesthesia. In 2005, it was the first in Asia and Australasia to implant the life saving mechanical heart assist device IVAD on patients waiting for heart transplant. IJN has also received numerous national and international awards, the latest being the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) Award for a three-year accreditation status.
Ruzana took me on a tour of the outpatient ground floor facilities and the eight wards on the four upper floors. In the Isolation Ward, Indonesian patient Adrian Saputra, 18, was waiting for hole-in-the heart (ASD) surgery to be performed in 48 hours’ time.
Adrian, the youngest of six siblings, was accompanied by his mother, aunt and two elder sisters. IJN helped his four ‘ladies in waiting’ find hotel accommodation nearby.
When asked how he felt about the treatment he had received so far, he said he was very happy with the speed and efficiency of the hospital’s health service, quick diagnosis and recommended course of action. He was transferred here from Hospital Harapan Kita in Jakarta where he had been receiving treatment for the last year. His family then decided to come to a Malaysian medical centre for more effective treatment. He said that his relatives liked KL and for his sisters, it was like a vacation!
Therein lies a good example of the happy marriage between medical treatment for patients and a pleasant holiday for the traveling companions.
Health Travel Conference
The First International Medical Tourism Conference was held in Singapore on December 12-15, 2006. It attracted 250 health travel and technology providers participants from 20 countries in Asia, Australia and USA. The conference was tagged as an opportunity for the global health care market to expand and grow.
Conference organizers Avail Corporation and Singapore Tourism Board declared that Singapore was targeting one million foreign patients a year, while Malaysia’s medical tourism receipts are expected to be in the region of US$590 million in five years’ time.
The conference also launched the formation of the first International Medical Travel Association to share knowledge and to set up a networking web across the globe. This will greatly advance health travel and protect the rights of international medical travelers.
What’s Available Here
Our health tourism packages and participating hospitals (Gleneagles, Pantai Medical Centre in KL and Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre and Island Hospital in Penang) are actively advertised on the Internet.
Packages cover a full spectrum of health problems, and prices range from basic health screening (RM450) to angioplasty (RM15,000), cataract surgery (RM27,000), total knee replacement (RM15,000, inclusive of five days’ ward stay and meals), liposuction (RM5,000) and abdominoplasty (RM7000).
Whether one seeks critical or not-so-urgent medical treatment like preventive procedures, cosmetic surgery or corrective dental work, Malaysia has a lot to offer with highly trained and experienced doctors, surgeons and paramedics, latest healthcare facilities and medical procedures, five-star hotel accommodation, affordable apartments and a warm tropical paradise for post-operative recuperation.
Moreover, English is widely used, especially in urban areas. Combine this with her unbeatable offering of Asian and international cuisine and her warm and hospitable people and you get a great package.
For further information, log on to www.hospitals-malaysia.org or contact IJN at Tel: 03-2617 8200, e-ail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Map and Driving Direction to IJN (Institut Jantung Negara)