Medical tourism in the Philippines performed better in the first quarter than in the same period last years despite the global financial crisis, an official from the Department of Tourism (DOT) revealed on Monday.
The industry has grown 10 percent from January to date, which translates to more than 200,000 foreigners who have come to the country’s health and wellness centers, Tourism Undersecretary Cynthia Carrion disclosed at the sidelines of the on-going World Health Tourism Congress at Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
Angel Bognot, chairperson of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (Naitas), said medical tourism is the bright spot amid the dark specter of recession.
“The Philippines should exploit the increasing number of foreign visitors availing themselves of medical tourism,” Bognot said.
He said Philippine hospitals have been accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI), an international hospital accreditation agency based in the United States, and are now recognized for world-class expertise, modern technology and equipment, and unique brand of caring and compassion.
Bognot said the St. Luke’s Medical Center, Medical City and Chung Hua Hospital in Cebu have already obtained JCI accreditation. Makati Medical Center is expected to be accredited soon followed by Asian Hospital.
He said the country was recently voted No. 7 for medical tourism in a recent international convention in Marbella, Spain, proving further that its medical service is one of the best in the globe.
As a result of the JCI accreditation, foreigners can now avail themselves of medical insurance in Philippine hospitals for less than half the price in the medical institutions in their countries, the Naitas official said.
“The insurance in the US is very, very expensive. They’re looking for places that will save them one third of the price of what they’re paying,” Carrion said.
Moreover, data from the Department of Tourism showed that the medical holiday packages here cost from 10 percent to 90 percent less than what Americans are paying for medical care in the US.
DOT data showed that knee replacement surgery in the United States and Europe can cost $50,000, but in the Philippines, only $6.000.
Medical tourism refers to offshore health care that covers medical, dental, optical and surgical services. These cases include heart and gastric by-pass operations, organ replacements like knee and heart valves, obstetrics and gynecology, among others.
Philippine hospitals offer at least 54 medical procedures and treatments to foreign patients.
Bognot said Medical City has been getting patients from South Korea for eye and nose reshaping and from Middle East for replacement surgery.
While St. Luke’s is getting Caucasian guests, mostly from the United States, who want to avail of medical insurance, aside from much lower cost, he said.
“I could not believe it when I went to St. Luke’s to verify the data,” Bognot said. “I found out for myself that the hospital has been getting 700 foreign patients a week.”
Carrion, on the other hand, said that even the traditional healing practices, like hilot, is getting international recognition, especially in Europe.
According to Carrion, the medical tourism sector is also a job generating industry. She said one job is created for every four medical tourist arriving in the country.
She said, “this is very timely” as the global crisis has spawned unemployment worldwide.
Carrion said the graduating nurses would benefit the most from medical tourism. “We have lots of very good nurses who are taking the lead” in patient care capability,” she said.
She said the DOT plans to establish a call center company in Subic that will have nurses as agents.
She said further that the economic benefits from the medical tourism industry radiate to information technology, advertising and promotion, real-estate and insurance sectors.
Robert Sears, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said the Philippines is very competitive when it comes to medical travel and would spread the word during the 42nd Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce conference in Singapore.
Carrion projected that by 2012, the tourism industry will generate some $3 billion in revenues.
–Francis Earl A. Cueto, Manila Times