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  Medical Tourism
Medical Tourism Big Business in Asia
Booming Medical Tourism in Asia — Malaysia and India are among the top five among the countries popular with medical tourists. According to research by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, an annual turnover of the global medical tourism will grow from $ 40 to $ 100 billion in 2012, according to Tourism-Review.

People in Asia are increasingly travelling to neighbouring countries, in search of better or cheaper medical treatment. Forecast estimates for the global medical tourism industry say it could be worth $US100 billion a year.

A new report called "Travelling for Health" says medical tourism is a booming industry for Asia.

The report's author is Ana Nicholls.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Ana Nicholls, managing editor of industry briefing, The Economist Intelligence Unit, London

NICHOLLS: In Asia, it's been largely driven by private sector developers who see this as an opportunity to use some of the medical skills that are within Asia, and also combine that with a low cost, to attract the growing number of wealthy people, particularly within Asia, so that this is very much a regional thing, in that people tend to go into their own local region. Obviously, the Asian economies are growing massively, and we estimate that the number of high-income households, those with over $25,000 a year income, has basically grown from around about 25 million to about 125-million over five years. We think that that, is one of the big driving factors. But basically, there's a local demand for high quality health care and that extends to bringing in foreign travellers to access that health care. It's also driven by the fact that within Asia, the public healthcare systems are very under-developed, though they are improving. And so, there is just this demand for high quality health care generally.

LAM: So this sort of travel is not necessarily from outside the region, such as from Europe or from the West, but it could be from within the Asian region itself, that people are travelling within Asian countries, to seek better and possibly cheaper medical treatment?

NICHOLLS: I would say that it was largely within Asia itself, around about 65 percent of the people coming into Malaysia for medical treatment for example, come from INdonesia. It tends to be that kind of relatively-local traffic. If there is a market opportunity to attract other people, to attract Americans and Europeans, because the facilities are there, and because the costs are lower, and obviously, as you know, in developed countries, the cost pressures are rising in terms of health care.

LAM: China's public health system used to have a less than pristine reputation, but I understand that now China also specialises in quite specific health care areas. Can you tell us more about this?

NICHOLLS: China is an interesting case, because this is not an industry where China is going to take over the world, like in so many other industries. And as you say, that's partly because although it has a lot of doctors, there is an issue with how poorly trained they are. It actually, in terms of our ranking, it appeared relatively high up, but that was partly because we couldn't take into account of the training levels of the doctors that are available. Nonetheless, China is offering specific niches in medical care, and two that we identified are traditional Chinese medicine - the Chinese diaspora, a lot of them would like to access that kind of care and they come back to China for that. And another area that China's specialising in, is stem-cell treatment, following in the footsteps of South Korea. It sees it as an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that it may not have the kind of cultural and legal impediments in the way of stem-cell treatments that the US in particular, has.

LAM: And what about hospital accreditation and a legal framework .. how important is that, for Asian countries to tap into this market?

NICHOLLS: I think it's incredibly important, if they really seriously want to go after this market, because western patients in particular, but also increasingly within the region, are just not going to be interested in going to hospitals where they're uncertain about the standards of care. And so, there is an urgent need to develop international standards of care, that people trust. In terms of the legal liability too, there needs to be some kind of harmonisation because one issue is that if you receive sub-standard treatment, you then have to go back home and be "patched up" in effect, within your own healthcare system. Whether you can actually sue doctors, if you've been badly treated in another country, all those issues need to be sorted out.

LAM: Is there any particular Asian country that stands out for you, in terms of medical tourism?

NICHOLLS: I would say that India has a very good chance of becoming a large country for medical tourism. There are countries such as Malaysia that has specifically targeted this industry and they're making quite a good go of developing it. Thailand is also targeting this industry and I think the issue that came out particularly with Thailand, which in our assessment didn't come out particularly well, in terms of its healthcare system or indeed in terms of its general and business environment. One issue in Thailand obviously is security risks.






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