THE Philippines aims to get a larger slice of the global medical tourism pie, with government making it one of the priority tourism programs.
In her remarks at the opening of the 11th Philippine Academy of Aesthetic and Age Management Medicine Inc. (PAAAMI) convention on Friday, September 8, at the Shangri-La The Fort, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said the Department of Tourism (DOT) will be forging partnerships with stakeholders in the local medical tourism industry, and focus on the aesthetics, aging, and wellness sectors. She underscored the medical tourism industry as a “strong growth center” for the country.
Fortune Business Insight estimates the size of the global medical tourism market at $11.56 billion in 2020, and projected to grow to $53.51 billion by 2028, at a compounded annual growth rate of 21.1 percent, from 2021.
Despite the large number of cosmetic clinics, aesthetic and wellness centers, spas, and internationally-accredited hospitals in the Philippines, the country only ranks 24th among the 46 medical tourism destinations in the world, as per the Medical Tourism Index, coming after Singapore (no. 2), South Korea (no. 14), Taiwan (no. 16), and Thailand (no. 17). Frasco averred the country “deserves a much higher place in the world,” citing the country’s quality and expertise of health-care professionals, “with a distinct Filipino brand of care renowned all over the world.”
Lower cost of healthcare
According to the Medical Tourism website, the Philippines is known for cosmetic surgery, dental procedures, opthalmology, cardiology, orthopedics, with select hospitals investing in special treatments like stem cell therapy and robotic surgery. Medical procedures in the Philippines also cost some 40 percent to 80 percent less than in Western countries like the US.
“We are committed to supporting medical tourism with the help of our stakeholders in nurturing a healthy environment for our health-care professionals and a welcoming environment for medical tourism clients,” said the DOT chief, stressing government’s plan to lift the country’s standing as one of the preferred medical tourism destinations in the world.
The Philippines has 23 health facilities internationally accredited and recognized by the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua). In terms of ease of access to care, there are 63 private hospitals in close proximity to four international airports “with almost no waiting time for appointments and treatment,” she said.
Priority under NTDP
The country also has a large English-speaking population, and a number of hospitals are accredited by foreign insurance companies. The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center, and Makati Medical Center are also accredited by the Joint Commission International, a non-profit US-based organization that certifies health-care companies, services, and programs. JCI’s stamp of approval makes it easier for foreign patients to get their insurers to pay for their medical procedures in the Philippines.
The DOT has identified medical tourism as a priority program under its National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2023-2028, as the agency seeks to diversify its tourism portfolio and ensure the growth of the Philippine tourism industry.
Citing a McKinsey and Company report, Fortune said “40 percent of the people travel to countries to seek medical care owing to the availability of advanced technology coupled with highly trained professionals. This shift was due to the factor that patients require quick medical service without a lengthy waiting period.”
It added, the most common medical procedures sought by tourists were knee replacement, dental, and cosmetics in countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Dubai, to name a few, due to their “lower-cost treatment.” Prior to the pandemic, Singapore, for instance, received about 500,000 medical tourists annually. Fortune also cited that a heart bypass surgery in Thailand cost $13,000 compared to $113,000 in the US.