Advertising guidelines for the healthcare sector in Malaysia may be further liberalized in 2012 to promote medical tourism and ensure targets under the National Key Economic Area are achieved.
Health minister Seri Liow Tiong Lai says health practitioners appealed to the government for a review of the guidelines because they were losing out on medical tourists, "Although doctors and hospitals are now allowed to advertise their services, there are certain limitations. We will review this and see how it can further boost the health industry. Since healthcare travel has been identified as one of the entry point projects to generate greater income and create new jobs, this will be considered.” Health practitioners cannot claim to be the best providers of a particular treatment and are not allowed to use too many personal photographs to promote themselves.
The government hopes that by 2020, the country will attract 2 million medical tourists a year. In the first nine months of 2011, 350,000 foreigners, most of whom were Indonesians, sought treatment in Malaysia. 2010 saw 400,000 medical tourists. Malaysia still struggles to compete with Singapore and Thailand.
The health minister has told private healthcare providers to improve their services and facilities in order to be on par with their foreign counterparts, if not better, “Clearly, our private hospitals have to improve their quality of service in order to remain competitive, but I am confident it can be done. Competitors such as Singapore and Thailand have shown stronger growth in this area and have established themselves as leaders in high value healthcare experiences.“
As part of recent budget measures, the private healthcare service industry will be liberalized to allow up to 100% foreign equity. The government has initiated various strategies to transform its healthcare tourism industry by marketing itself beyond Indonesia, which makes up about 80% of Malaysia’s revenue in healthcare tourism. The Ministry of Health
is setting up call centres in China and Indonesia in 2012 to attract more medical tourists, and is targeting China, Australia, the Middle East and the UK.
The government has been supporting the industry with significant investment in many areas, including the refurbishment of existing hospitals, building and equipping new hospitals. More hotel/resort spas are opening across the country, increasing from 108 outlets in 2009 to 130 in 2010, as the demand for these resorts has soared.
Malaysia badly wants this niche market, as medical visitors spend more than leisure travellers, stay longer and also tend to become repeat visitors. People are starting to go to Malaysia from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and USA for cosmetic surgery. The latter group tends to come for cosmetic surgery and dental treatment, while Indonesians come for medical treatment. If Indonesia builds the hospitals it promises, then many Indonesians will stay at home, which is why the country is urgently trying to seek new markets.