The service sector has been identified as the engine of growth for the country. In the service sector, education tourism and medical tourism are important subsectors. I have my reservation about medical tourism in this country. Statistics has shown that the number of foreign patients has been increasing steadily. Today we treat about 300,000 foreign patients with revenue of about RM250 - 300 million. So, why do I say medical tourism have limited potential in this country?
While it is true that we are cost competitive compared to regional market, but foreigners who seek treatment here are usually for the more mundane medical treatment where the average cost is about RM1000 per patient. We are treating more low-end patients with most of them from Indonesia. We have to bear in mind that we are facing acute shortage of healthcare providers. We face shortage in all spectrums, from doctors and nurses to physiotherapists and etc. Hence, any growth in medical tourism has to be very dependent on imported healthcare provider. We cannot cater to mass medical tourism. We can only cater to the niche market or the high value added medical tourists. If we do cannot achieve this, then we are deluding ourselves into thinking we are successful with the sheer number of foreign patients seeking treatment in our country.
In term of value, it is very limited since medical tourism in our country at present is not a high value added service with the average costs of about RM1000-1500 per patient with treatments ranging from dental treatments, medical checkups and simple plastic surgeries. This will only serve to overload an already strained medical system.
The sprouting of private hospitals has also caused an exodus of government medical providers to the private sectors. What we are seeing is junior doctors assuming senior positions, both in the government and in the private sectors. We see junior doctors training other freshie medical graduates. The end result is the steady dropping of medical standards in this country since everybody is in a hurry to migrate from the government to the private sector for a greener pasture.
Hence, we should not be euphoric about the rise of medical tourism in this country since it will strain an already overburden government health system. The poor will be deprived of the best healthcare system as provided by the government. The escalating costs of the healthcare system will also become a burden to the middle class. So, we should be more cautious about supporting medical tourism in this country.