Saturday, August 23, 2014

Medical tourism: where the jobs are

MEDICAL TOURISM, the country’s youngest growth industry, has a long way to go—and a lot of employees to recruit—to attain its goal of earning some P135 billion by 2015.

Optimistic government projections say this massive amount of money will come from the one million medical tourists expected to arrive in the next five years. There were some 60,000 medical tourists in 2007 and 100,000 in 2008. Our medical tourism industry has earned about P16 billion since 2004 when the government took its first steps in making medical tourism an industry.

Much of that money went to doctors, nurses, physical therapists, spa personnel, reflexologists, masseuses and tourism personnel who populate the medical tourism industry, which also goes by the name health and wellness tourism industry and the medical travel industry.

Worldwide, medical tourism today is worth from P1.8 to P2.7 trillion and is growing annually at a rate of 20%, so it could be a P8.5 trillion global business by 2013.

Jobs in medical tourism
Medical tourism is widely defined as a health holiday that includes cost effective private medical care and tour packages (sightseeing, golf and shopping, for example). It also includes leisure and relaxation activities such as spa therapies to re-invigorate patients.

The government said employment in medical tourism rose 13% from 2003 to 2005 to around 239,000 employees (or about one percent of total employment in the Philippines). Clearly, medical tourism is the place to be for medical, tourism and hotel and restaurant management students who could earn big without leaving the Philippines to work abroad.

Medical tourism will also enhance complementary industries such as travel, airlines and hospitality. And, equally important, medical tourism could reduce and reverse the brain drain of Filipino medical professionals (especially doctors and nurses) who continue to go abroad to work.

And where are these medical tourism jobs located? They’re mostly in two places: Metro Manila for the medical aspect of medical tourism and Cebu for both the medical and wellness side of the equation.

Without doubt, Metro Manila is this country’s center for the medical arts and medical education. Two of the country’s three hospitals accredited as medical tourism hospitals are in Metro Manila: St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and Medical City in Pasig City. The other accredited hospital is the Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City. Private hospitals in Metro Manila offer the best in medical facilities equal to western hospitals, with some providing accommodations similar to that of five-star hotels.

The opening of St. Luke’s Medical Center at the Global City in Taguig City in January 2010 was a landmark in the medical tourism industry. St. Luke’s Taguig is the country’s first hospital designed from the ground up for medical tourism.

St. Luke's Medical Center, Global City

St. Luke’s Taguig, sister hospital of St. Luke’s Quezon City, houses 374 doctors’ clinics, 18 operating rooms, 5 caesarian section and delivery rooms, imaging suites, critical care units, a cardiac catheriterization laboratory, ob-gynecology, a post-anesthetic care unit and 10 institutes (Heart, Cancer, Neurosciences, Digestive and Liver Diseases, Eye, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Pathology, Pulmonary Medicine, Radiology, and Pediatrics and Child Health).

St. Luke’s Taguig is regarded as the best hospital in the Philippines today and one of the best in the world. It is better-equipped than 95% of hospitals in the USA. The hospital caters to two main markets— medical tourism and patients from the Makati Central Business District. The government said the opening of St. Luke’s Taguig should strengthen the Philippines’ medical tourism industry, and boost the Philippines as an excellent retirement location.

Accreditation enhances the quality of medical care by providing quality standards and measuring hospital performance against internationally accepted benchmarks. Having more accredited hospitals could help convince more medical tourists to choose the Philippines instead of other countries. All three of our accredited hospitals were accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI), an international agency that certifies hospitals and other healthcare facilities worldwide.

“The Philippines will only succeed if more medical institutions will get international accreditation and improve medical services,” said Dr. Anthony Calibo, Program Manager of the Philippine Medical Tourism Program under the Department of Health (DOH).

Cebu medical tourism
The heart of the Philippines’ tourism industry lies in the Visayas and the jewels of the region’s tourism industry are Cebu and Boracay. The accreditation of Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City as one of only three medical tourism accredited hospitals indicates the Visayas realizes the potential of medical tourism and is doing something about it.

The ongoing tourism boom is also expected to further benefit medical tourism in Cebu. Cebu is visited every year by a third of all tourists to the Philippines and is also the most popular tourist destination among foreigners, followed by Boracay. Of the top five tourist destinations in the Philippines, four are in the Visayas. Some 8,000 more hotel and resort rooms are expected to open in the next five years, mostly in Cebu and Metro Manila, bringing a massive number of jobs.

Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City

 In 2009, those jobs were at Cebu’s P3.2 billion Imperial Palace Water Park, Resort and Spa (800 jobs), the Radisson Hotel in Cebu City and the P8.5 million San Remigio Beach Club in northern Cebu. New hotels at Boracay are the Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa, Crowne Regency, Phonex Hotel, Boracay Regency Lagoon, Seven Stones and Grand Water.

Its combined medical and wellness aspects make medical tourism in Cebu unique. A medical tourist can have a medical, cosmetic or surgical procedure performed in Cebu City, relax at a spa then tour any of the world class tourism sites in the province, in the Visayas or in Mindanao.

“The Wellness Island of Cebu” is how the province promotes itself to medical tourists. Officials in charge of this effort say Cebu has many advantages as a medical tourist destination: low cost medical procedures (from 50% to 90% cheaper than those in the USA); competent and experienced doctors and medical personnel; the wide use of English and the natural tendency of Cebuanos (and Filipinos, in general) towards compassionate caregiving. There are also a large number of spas that help facilitate recovery.

Good years ahead
Good years lie ahead for medical tourism. This October will see the holding of the 2010 International Summit on Medical Travel, Wellness and Retirement (IMWELL) Summit where experts from the hospitality, healthcare, travel and wellness industries around the world will discuss how to make the Philippines the next preferred medical travel destination in Asia.

The ongoing crisis in U.S. healthcare is also expected to boost our medical tourism. The U.S. accounts for P77 trillion of the P149 trillion spent annually for healthcare worldwide. Although Americans spend more for healthcare than any country in the world, the quality of the healthcare they receive is abysmal: the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 37th when it comes to quality of healthcare. The top healthcare nations are in Europe.

Consequently, Americans are increasingly turning overseas to address their healthcare needs as their healthcare insurance costs skyrocket at a higher rate than overall inflation. The market for our medical tourism: uninsured Americans and a large number of underinsured since the procedures they mostly undergo (such as cosmetic surgery) are elective and not covered by health insurance. The U.S. also faces a sharp cut in new physicians entering its healthcare system.

Medical tourism today, however, isn’t common enough to play a role in U.S. healthcare reform—not yet, at least. One estimate said medical travel spending accounted for no more 1% (P10.8 billion) of the P108 trillion spent on healthcare in the U.S. in 2007.

Medical travel in the U.S. is gaining ground, however. The four largest commercial U.S. health insurers have either launched pilot programs offering medical tourism or are exploring it. The influential American Medical Association has released new guidelines on medical tourism intended to inform and advise patients, employers, insurers and those coordinating international healthcare about how to ensure the quality and safety of patient care internationally.

(Published in Enrich magazine, 2010)