PHL seeks bigger share in $72-B global medical-tourism market

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo @Pulitika2010 / Special to the BusinessMirror

THE Philippines is poised to take advantage of the $72-billion global medical tourism market, by positioning itself as a provider of excellent and affordable hospital care and medical treatments.

“The Philippines is globally positioning itself as the heart of Asia, combining modern technology with Philippine culture and tradition, highlighting the warmth of the Filipino people. We offer a brand of service that is distinctly Filipino,” said Patrick A. Chuasoto, chargé d’affaires ad interim of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., in his welcome remarks at the 2016 World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress (WMTC) on September 27 at the Romulo Hall of the Philippine Embassy 

According to a news statement from the embassy, there were about 40 delegates and participants who attended a briefing on the Philippine Medical Tourism Program. The visit was part of the WMTC’s Embassy Tours.

Cynthia C. Lazo, director for Medical Travel and Wellness Tourism of the Department of Tourism (DOT), made a brief presentation on the key aspects of the Philippine medical-tourism program, including the country’s advantages in terms of modern facilities, fluency in the English language, good infrastructure, proximity to most of Asia’s major cities, “and the ability of a caring local community to help in total healing in body, mind and spirit.”

On a 2015 list of top destinations for medical tourism released by the International Healthcare Research Center and the Medical Tourism Association, the Philippines was ranked eighth after Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Singapore, Costa Rica, Italy and Germany.

Five medical centers are currently certified by the Joint Commission International (JCI) as offering the highest quality health care that foreigners can trust in the Philippines. These are Asian Hospital in Muntinlupa City, St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and Taguig, Makati Medical Center and the Medical City in Pasig City.

JCI identifies, measures and shares best practices in quality and patient safety with the world. Its team of experts works with hospitals and other health-care organizations, health systems, government ministries, public-health agencies, academic institutions and businesses to achieve peak performance in patient care. A JCI accreditation for a Philippine hospital enables patients from other countries to use their health insurance to pay for the costs of treatment in a local hospital or medical facility.

For its medical-tourism program, the DOT is targeting to attract visitors from the following key markets: overseas and former Filipinos in North America and Canada; Australia; Pacific Island nations, such as the Republic of Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Guam, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia; Japan; South Korea; and the Middle East (i.e., the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain).

While not yet JCI-certified, other hospitals the DOT has accredited as excellent patient facilities offering premium health care are Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City, the University of Santo Tomas Hospital in Manila and the St. Frances Cabrini Medical Center in Santo Tomas, Batangas.

The DOT’s medical tourism program also includes spa tourism, promoting traditional Filipino healing methods and use of local herbs, oils and essences. It was through DOT’s initiative that many spas now offer the deep tissue therapeutic massage called hilot and the traditional foot massage from the Mount Province using wooden sticks called dagdagay.

According to the DOT, among its other competitors in Asia, like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, offers the lowest rates on hospital rooms ($23) and facelifts ($1,900). It also offers the lowest cost in medical checkups ($218).

A number of spas in the Philippines, such as The Farm in San Benito, Batangas and Mandala Spa in Boracay, have received a string of awards from international health and wellness organizations.

The web site Patients Beyond Borders estimates the global market for medical tourism at $45.5 billion to $72 billion, “based on approximately 14 million cross-border patients worldwide spending an average of $3,800 to $6,000 per visit, including medically related costs, cross-border and local transport, inpatient stay and accommodations. We estimate some 1.4 million Americans will travel outside the US for medical care this year [2016].”

Seidric Tapscott, founder of Tapscott Health, who delivered a short testimonial on Philippine medical tourism, said: “It is time to put the Philippines on the map of medical tourism. It has some of the best medical facilities in the world with top rated doctors. I avail of general health screening in the country regularly.”

Omar Shalabi, from the Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare Co., also expressed his appreciation for the expertise and work ethic of Filipino nurses and other allied professionals.

The embassy briefing was organized with the support of the DOT, Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry, and the Philippine Tourism Office in New York. Representatives from major hospitals in the Philippines and medical tourism facilitators were also present.

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