Tourist-haven Malaysia is positioning itself as a top-notch medical tourism destination in the Asean region despite challenges as uncertainty looms large due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 1.3 million foreigners landed in Malaysia last year seeking treatment, compared to 1.2 million in 2018 – clear testimony to the country’s ability to deliver quality medical services and the growing confidence among overseas patients.

The medical tourism industry worldwide has been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak as cross-border travel has been limited – and Malaysia has not been insulated from the ongoing onslaught of the pandemic.

However, plans are in place to keep access open as its world-class medical care and infrastructure, global connectivity, affordable pricing, international standard hospitals and English-speaking staff have all made Malaysia a key destination for patients from the region and beyond.

Malaysia healthcare sector attracted 1.3 million medical tourists last year.

Seventy-six private hospitals support its medical tourism sector by offering a wide range of treatments – fertility, dental, gastroenterology, general health screenings, neurology, orthopaedics, urology, oncology and cardiology, among others.

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) CEO Sherene Azli said patients across the globe are warmly welcomed to the Southeast Asian nation for medical treatment.

CEO Sherene Azli. Photo supplied

“Malaysia’s appeal as a sought-after healthcare destination comes from our world-class quality, ease of accessibility and competitive affordability.

“We have an existing network of top healthcare facilities that are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and have expert healthcare professionals onboard to provide patients with excellent medical care.

“Along with providing the best of medical consultations, Malaysia healthcare also strives to provide a seamless patient journey.

“This includes greeting healthcare travellers at the airport, assisting them to expedite customs and providing assistance on every step of the journey, until they depart back to their home countries,” Sherene said.

Malaysia was recognised as “Destination of the Year” by the International Medical Travel Journal for four years – 2015 to 2017 and 2020 – with “Highly Commended” mentions in 2018 and 2019.

Malaysia is the number one healthcare travel destination by volume according to the 2018 Global Market Report produced by LaingBuisson, the UK-based healthcare research intelligence provider.

According to a Patients Beyond Borders report, in-bound healthcare travellers to Malaysia can realise savings of up to 80 per cent on a wide range of procedures and treatments in first-class hospitals and clinics, making Malaysia a preferred destination for medical care.

“At Malaysia Healthcare, we are able to keep our costs competitive with our wide network of 76 member hospitals spread across Malaysia. This gives healthcare travellers the option to choose a private healthcare facility that suits their needs.

“We also have a wide pool of healthcare professionals with both local and international experience who are able to provide expert consultations and treatments at an affordable price. Regardless of where patients choose to go for their medical treatment, they will continue be greeted by highly qualified physicians, surgeons, and medical staff.

“The excellent medical facilities that Malaysia provides has enabled us to become a leading healthcare travel destination, attracting foreigners looking for safe, reliable surgery or treatment for a variety of ailments,” Sherene said.

With its range of attractive tourist products – from sandy beaches, affordable hotels and historical parks, to its efficient transport network – Malaysia has emerged as one of the top tourism destinations in the region, competing with countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

MHTC has played a major role in promoting medical tourism to Malaysia.

Over the years, the Malaysian government has spent billions of dollars developing its healthcare infrastructure and allowed private hospitals to function alongside public institutions.

As the government began to promote medical tourism around a decade ago, established and reputable private hospitals began opening their doors to foreign patients seeking treatment.

Medical tourism has grown to be a powerful revenue generating sector for the nation, contributing around RM1.7 billion ($425 million) last year.

And to continue offering its top-class healthcare to the world, a medical travel bubble has been set up since July for travellers seeking treatment in Malaysia.

Those who wish to enter the nation for medical treatment during the pandemic are required to submit the necessary documents to the selected hospital and apply for permission to enter Malaysia.

“We welcome patients from across the globe to Malaysia for medical treatments. However, taking into consideration the current Covid-19 pandemic, MHTC has put together stringent standard operating procedures [SOPs] to ensure the safety of Malaysians and arriving foreign patients,” Sherene said.

Some 76 private hospitals drive Malaysia’s robust healthcare sector.

First, a patient would need to secure a treatment appointment with one of MHTC’s member hospitals prior to travelling to Malaysia.

Once the appointment has been confirmed, the member hospital would need to apply for “Permission to Enter Malaysia for Treatments” with MHTC on behalf of the patient.

Entry is then subject to Immigration Department approval – assisted by MHTC – in addition to a decision from the patient’s government.

“Unmatched capabilities and strengths as a world-class quality healthcare provider, coupled with the successful and commendable steps Malaysia has taken in the battle against Covid-19 is testament to our strong healthcare ecosystem and the quality of care that patients can expect from the ‘World’s Healthcare Marvel’,” Sherene said.

As of July 2020, a medical travel bubble has been set up for patients seeking medical treatments in Malaysia and allowed in phases, and they are required to comply with the SOPs.

The multi-cultural Malaysia has won several accolades in recent years. It is recognised as one of the top 10 wellness destinations.

Malaysia’s ranking of eighth sot outpaces many other famous locations and clearly affirms the country’s unique ability to attract travellers from around the world.

Malaysia’s healthcare system has been internationally recognised by the US-based International Living magazine earning the title the “Best Country in the World for Healthcare” based on their Global Retirement Index from 2015 to 2019.

And, this year Malaysia was rated as the ‘Top Asian Country for Retirement and Healthcare’.

In addition, Malaysia also houses numerous wellness retreats, provides multiple languages for healthcare visitors and tourism options from shopping to fine-dining and island retreats to forest escapades.

Patients will find it easy to communicate as the Malaysian medical community is multilingual as well — able to speak English, Malay, Chinese dialects and Indian languages, while arrangement for translators are readily available.

In addition to providing world class quality, accessibility, and comparatively affordable medical care, Malaysia has also invested significantly in bringing new technologies to the hospitals to enable them to provide cutting edge medical care to overseas' patients.

With its growing reputation, Malaysia now competes strongly with its close neighbours like Singapore and Thailand for a slice of the global medical tourism sector.