It has been more than 18 months since the world was shocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. International borders were closed, lives and livelihoods got disrupted and countries still scramble to vaccinate their population. Meanwhile, the virus continues to mutate, with the current Delta variant being the most infectious yet.
In Malaysia, the authorities and frontliners have been giving their all to contain COVID-19. A slew of vocabulary started to fill our lives locally: new normal, pivot, face masks, vaccines, MCO, RMCO, EMCO, FMCO, Phase 1 to 4, antigen rapid tests (ART), polymerase chain rapid (PCR) tests, self-testing kit, quarantine… This list seems endless.
Fortunately, the Ministry of Health expects 80% of the adult population to be fully vaccinated by the end of October, and to transition the management of this pandemic to that of an endemic. This means that we need to start – or restart – living knowing that the virus will continue to be a part of our lives. While we will soon see inter-state borders reopening, we still do not have a clear visualisation of when international borders will reopen, and thus Malaysia’s international medical tourism industry continues to be hard hit.
Let us pause and reflect on Malaysia’s medical tourism achievements before COVID-19 hit us. This industry has grown continuously since 2011 when Malaysia Healthcare was created. In 2019, the healthcare tourism revenue stood at RM1.7 billion, with 1.22 million travellers visiting the country to seek treatment in many segments including cardiology, fertility, oncology, gastroenterology and opthamology. Malaysia was also crowned “Health and Medical Tourism: Destination of the Year” title from 2015 to 2017, and in 2020 amidst the pandemic.
Against the backdrop of challenging times for the industry, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) appointed tourism industry veteran Mohd Daud Mohd Arif as its Chief Executive Officer to inject fresh perspectives and solidify Malaysia’s position in medical tourism.
Mohd Daud Mohd Arif, Chief Executive Officer, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council
In an interview with Health Matters Malaysia, MHTC shared its “mitigate and navigate” thrusts by revisiting its strategies and addressing two key opportunities:
To revive the industry, MHTC is building confidence in Malaysia as a safe and trusted healthcare travel destination through 2 phases:
Additionally, MHTC will continue to focus on its key niche areas of strengths such as:
Other strategic MHTC initiatives include:
Through the above initiatives among many others, MHTC hopes to propel Malaysia to be a leading global destination for healthcare – with estimated RM480 to RM520 million revenue target in 2021 depending on reopening of borders, favourable market conditions and availability of vaccine passports – to potentially contribute up to RM7 billion to the economy by 2025.
(L-R) Dr. Raymond Choy, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of DOC2US, and Dr. Tan Hui Ling, Managing Director of Bagan Specialist Centre and Oriental Melaka Straits Medical Centre
Earlier this year, MHTC partnered with DoctorOnCall to enable its 75 member hospitals to access the latter’s digital platform to provide continuity of care to healthcare travellers, even when borders are closed. This ranges from enhancing hospitals’ telemedicine infrastructure, enabling medication delivery services, and even enhancing cross-border digital payments.
Echoing on this emerging opportunity in telehealth services accelerated by COVID-19 is Dr. Raymond Choy, co-founder & Chief Executive Officer of DOC2US, a digital mobile application service provider that allows patients to talk to a doctor or healthcare professional via text chat at any time and from anywhere. DOC2US provides telehealth services to about 15 to 20% of its foreign patients especially from Southeast Asia; these services currently contribute less than 10% of its total revenue but the upside is enormous.
“We see huge potential not just in medical tourism but also in virtual medical tourism with the advancement in mobile technology and connectivity. Telemedicine allows patients to seek a second opinion from experts outside their home country and post-treatment monitoring. It also enables in-country diagnosis and treatment being planned and indeed, this helps to build the in-country medical capacity and provides better preparedness on the patient’s part and greater support in their home country”, said Dr. Choy.
He continued, “the availability of information on the internet and the increasing availability of low-cost flights have been the main drivers for the growing medical tourism industry. Doctors in Malaysia and Singapore are well respected internationally with positive patient testimonies, established infrastructure and ecosystem, and for Malaysia, the cost of procedures and being a Muslim country also gave us some competitive advantage as well.
Legislation, regulations and policies are some of the constraints, but the main constraints would still be user readiness as some are worried over continuity of healthcare record, adoption from healthcare providers and ecosystem readiness”.
Leveraging on cloud computing technology, DOC2US aims to provide scalable and seamless remote healthcare services to consumers, patients, corporate clients, healthcare providers, and healthcare fraternity like clinics, and pharmacies in any country.
In August, it launched the HOPE application in Myanmar with local partners serving the local healthcare needs. By replicating the DOC2US existing system and business model with “hyper-localised” elements, Dr. Choy is confident that this will provide a better healthcare solution to our Burmese folks who are experiencing tonnes of pain points daily in their healthcare journey in Myanmar. Meanwhile, DOC2US will continue putting more resources and focus to grow its market share in Malaysia before further international expansion in the next two years.
Similarly, Dr. Tan Hui Ling, Managing Director of Bagan Specialist Centre (BSC) and Oriental Melaka Straits Medical Centre, sees growth opportunities in telehealth services. Prior to the pandemic, her business mainly focused on local patients, with some international ones mainly from Indonesia. Now, BSC is able to offer the following international services: live health talks via digital platforms, teleconsultations, second opinion or triage services.
Will these challenging healthcare business conditions continue to persist? Yes. Will there possibly be further shocks and headwinds? Yes. Will Malaysia medical tourism be able to stay ahead of the game and thrive? With the continuing support from the relevant ministries, agencies and the innovative and agile actions by the local private sector organisations, yes. Malaysia boleh!
Introducing DOC2US, your personal pocket doctor at your fingertips. With its name synonymous to “talk to us”, DOC2US is a mobile application that allows you to talk to a doctor or any healthcare professionals via text chat at any time and from anywhere.