Thursday, October 23, 2008

Medical Tourism in the Philippines: An answer to financial crisis?

At first, it seems strange how fouled up mortgage deals in the United States have set in motion what some experts are calling “the worst financial crisis in the US since the Depression of the 1930s.” Considering our globally interconnected economies, however, that’s also bad news for the Philippines. One big local insurance company has already been affected, and the media has already reported on possible effects on our call centers.

On the level of our households and personal finances, we’re all starting to feel the financial pinch: prices of basic commodities are going up and our purchasing power seems to shrink by the day. One news website report estimates that as many as 50, 000 OFWs could be affected as the world economy slows down.

What can we and the government do about this?

On October 22-25, 2008, however, a ray of hope present itself in “Embracing Health and Wellness in the Heart of Asia,” touted as the biggest medical tourism and wellness summit in Asia, to be held at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila. The summit is hosted by Department of Tourism and supported by key government and industry players.

“Embracing Health and Wellness in the Heart of Asia” brings together government policy and major players in the medical, health and wellness sectors. They will present how the Philippines can reap the economic and social benefits of being a major player in the globalization of health care in the 21st century.

So what’s the connection between the medical tourism and the Philippines economic salvation? In the same way that bad housing loans in the US can affect our finances here, the rising cost of health care in the United States, Europe and other Asian countries just might actually spell good news for the Philippines.


The Department of Tourism is very optimistic over the prospects of the Philippines as the next hub of medical tourism and wellness in Asia. DOT Undersecretary for Sports and Wellness Cynthia Carrion said that the upcoming DOT-sponsored medical tourism and wellness summit, dubbed as “Embracing Health and Wellness in the Heart of Asia,” will showcase the qualities that makes the Philippines the ideal destination for medical tourism, health and wellness.

“Embracing Health and Wellness in the Heart of Asia” gathers together leaders, experts and policy-makers in the international and local health care and wellness sectors who will give crucial information on how to reduce risk and maximize gains in the globalized 21st health care arena.

Carrion said that a report titled “Medical Tourism Economic Report” by the Medical Tourism Association Magazine cited the Philippines for having all the ingredients for building a sustainable international medical tourism industry and culture.

“The authors of the report, experts David G. Vequist, IV and Erika Valdez, wrote, ‘the Philippines has many opportunities to take advantage of the estimated $40 billion medical tourism industry. For this country, 700, 000 medical tourist and the $2 billion annually seems very achievable in the near future.’ That alone already shows us that industry experts are looking seriously at the Philippines as a major player in global medical tourism. In the summit, the DOT has gathered together, 16 international speakers, all leaders in their fields, to share with summit delegates their insights about how to achieve true health and wellness. Furthermore, these experts will present how truly excellent, modern and world class the Philippine health care system is; and how we can be a mecca of well-being and healing for the world,” said Carrion.

Billion-dollar Industry

Why is the Philippine government backing a national campaign to turn the country into a hub of medical and wellness tourism? First of all, let’s get an overview.

According to the report “2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers” by top research firm Deloitte (through their Deloitte Center for Health Solutions) some 750, 000 US citizens traveled abroad to get medical care. That number is expected to reach a whopping 6 million by 2010.

Now how does that translate in revenues? The Deloitte report states that Americans spent $2.1 billion for medical care overseas in 2007. By 2010, that amount is projected to balloon to as much as $79.5 billion in 2010.

Why are the Americans spending these amounts to get medical and / or wellness treatments abroad? Simply because it would cost them so much more if they avail of such treatments in the United States.

Office for Special Concerns – DOH

Note that the price difference between a medical treatment in the US and the same treatment as offered here in the Philippines is at 50% or more. This means huge savings for foreign patients and corporations who opt to go to the Philippines for medical procedures.

Also, take note that the nearly $80 billion projected revenues from medical tourism is generated only by the US market, still excluding potential revenues from Europe and Asia.

So the question now is this: Will the Philippines be able to get its share of this very lucrative trend in global health care?

Meeting Challenges

What would give a medical tourist enough incentive and confidence to leave his well-being in the hands of foreigners? The answer seem obvious but let’s have Deloitte report tell us:

“Outbound [from the US] medical tourism is expected to experience explosive growth over the next three to five years. Consider the following:

Health care costs are increasing at eight percent per year – well above the Consumer Price Index (CPI) thus eating into corporate profits and household disposable income.

The safety and quality of care available in many offshore settings is no longer an issue: Organizations including the Joint Commission International (JCI) and others are accrediting these facilities.

Consumers are willing to travel to obtain care that is both safe and less costly. In fact, two in five respondents [Deloitte’s 2008 Survey of Health Consumers included more than 3, 000 Americans in the study] said they would be interested in pursuing treatments abroad if quality was comparable and the savings were 50% or more.

From the Deloitte Study, we can see the factors like lower cost, patient safety and health care of “comparable” quality to their home countries are the top considerations for medical tourists when choosing where to get treatments abroad.

According to Calibo, the Philippines today meets all those criteria., He cited the so called Centers of Excellence, which include the country’s top hospitals that have been approved for medical tourism by the government. Of these hospitals, two are already accredited by the Joint Commission International: St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Medical City.

Other Centers of Excellence include the Makati Medical Center, Asian Hospital and Medical Center; Capitol Medical Center; Manila Doctors Hospital; University of Santo Tomas Hospital; Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

Then there are the world-class specialized medical centers including the Philippine Heart Center; Lung Center of the Philippines and National Kidney and Transplant Institute.

Calibo said that these hospitals are more than capable of giving more than comparable care to overseas patients. In fact these hospitals already have International Patient Centers and are routinely admitting patients from overseas all of whom receive safe, modern, high-tech, world-class quality treatments and care.

Calibo also pointed out that Filipino health and wellness professionals themselves make all the difference for the success of medical tourism in the Philippines.

“Filipino health and wellness professionals are extremely competent, highly-skilled, well-trained, fluent in English and have received postgraduate training in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan. Furthermore, Filipinos are the most compassionate, caring professionals in Asia,” said Calibo.

Competitive Advantage

DOT Secretary Joseph Ace Durano cited the Philippines competitive advantage over other countries in Asia who are already into medical and wellness tourism (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.).

Durano said that compared to other countries in Asia or Latin America who are now engaged in medical tourism, the Philippines is the only one that can offer a complete health, wellness and retirement experience.

“We must look at the three different health and wellness clusters that the Philippines has today. First, there’s the Medical Tourism Cluster. These are composed of our modern, high-tech and world-class hospitals and medical centers, which are staffed by the most competent doctors and medical professionals. Second, there’s the Retirement Cluster. This cluster includes retirement villages, nursing homes, and hospitals. Third, there’s the Wellness Cluster which includes spas, holistic therapies, traditional Filipino massage and complimentary medicine. The Philippines is the only country that covers all three clusters of health and wellness,” said Durano.

Philippine Retirement Authority Chairman General Aglipay also expressed his full support for the Philippines medical tourism campaign, and emphasized the importance of the health and wellness components for the success of the PRA.

Aglipay said that three factors converging and fuelling an inevitable demand for retirement destinations: 1) A more positive attitude towards aging; 2) A “broken” structure of traditional care of the elderly; and 3) The lack of readiness in many countries for an increasingly elderly population.

Citing findings from an HSBC study, Aglipay said that in near future, there will be a bigger population of people who are 65 years old and above. Strikingly, there will be a lesser population of young people.

“Pension payments retirees in developed countries have become unsustainable. Retirees getting an average pension of $1, 000 - $1, 500 can no longer afford the cost of living in their own countries. That’s why retiring and retired nationals of these countries are seeking alternative & affordable retirement places,” Aglipay explained.

Complete Care – from the heart

Durano continued that the Philippines, with its relaxing and peaceful tropical paradise settings, its world class health care facilities; its wellness providers; and its cheerful, optimistic, kind and compassionate people make the Philippines the ideal wellness destination.

DOT Undersecretary Carrion concurred, explaining that the greatest and most distinctive offering the Philippines can give to the world in terms of health and wellness are the wonderful attributes of the Filipino themselves.

“The Philippines is home to the most competent, most compassionate, friendly, kind and caring people in the world. In other words, we do not take care of physical needs but emotional needs as well. And if you are recovering from illness or trying to escape the stresses of this world, what could be more helpful, more healing than the genuine love, care and concern extended to you by another human being?” Carrion said.

To register or learn more about ”Embracing Health and Wellness in the Heart of Asia,” call 437-7090 or 440-3354 or log on to

Source: The Philippine Star

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