In 2015, the Philippines was ranked eighth among the top medical tourism destinations in the world, ahead of countries such as Japan and France, according to a list compiled by the International Healthcare Research Center and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), a global non-profit association for medical tourism and international patient industry which represents healthcare providers, governments, insurance companies, employers and other buyers of healthcare.
According to the MTA index, Canada emerged as the top medical tourism destination worldwide, providing the most suitable economical, secure and cultural environment, and an acceptable healthcare cost. The UK and Israel came second and third, respectively. Singapore ranked 4th, ahead of Costa Rica (5th), Italy (6th), and Germany (7th).
Clients of the Philippines for medical tourism come from East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan), Sri Lanka, the Pacific Islands (Guam, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia), Australia, North and South America, Europe and the United Kingdom, and the Gulf States. Filipino expats and overseas Filipino workers likewise prefer to have their medical procedures done in the country.
The Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Trade and Industry – Board of Investments (DTI–BOI) have a joint programme to promote Philippine medical tourism. This informal partnership resulted in a roadmap that identified five major segments in the international medical travel sector: tourists, who come for spa and other wellness services; medical tourists, who avail of low-acuity medical procedures; medical travelers, who purposely come to specifically avail of more complex procedures; international patients, including overseas Filipino workers, expats, and retirees; and accompanying guests, either friends or immediate kin of travelers.
To date, medical tourism in the Philippines caters to approximately 80,000 to 250,000 patients or clients annually. As of the DOT, DOH, DTI-BOI’s latest count, 62 hospitals around the country are now internationally accredited. To date, five Philippine medical institutions, namely Asian Hospital and Medical Center (Muntinlupa City), Makati Medical Center (Makati City), St. Luke’s Medical Center (Global City and Quezon City), and The Medical City (Pasig City) have been certified as institutions for excellent medical care by the Joint Commission International (JCI), the only patient safety and quality healthcare accreditation and certification body with membership in more than 100 countries worldwide. JCI accreditation is both intensive and extensive in its standards, and assessment is comprehensive, thus ensuring that a hospital with the JCI seal can provide the care that medical tourists require.
In a 2014 study by renowned medical tourism author Ian Youngman, global health and wellness tourism market is worth US$438.6 billion. And Philippine medical tourism was able to generate US$66 million and US$145 million for 2013 and 2014, respectively. Among the factors cited in the survey include competitive price of health and wellness services, the warm hospitality and compassion that Filipinos are known for, high standards of healthcare provided in internationally-accredited hospitals by well-educated and English-speaking healthcare professionals. The country’s proximity to major international hubs and its tropical climate are also a boon to medical travelers, encouraging healing and relaxation after medical procedures.
DOT Director for Medical Travel and Wellness Tourism, Cynthia Lazo, said it is crucial to have a “One Country Package.”
“It has to be a country effort, a collective effort of every medical and wellness facility in the country, for the Philippines to be accepted in the medical and wellness market,” she said, citing it as the game changer in Philippine medical tourism.
“Our value proposition is, time and again, our 7,107 islands which a medical traveler can choose from, while availing of a clinical or wellness procedure in the country,” Director Lazo expounded, citing the Cebu-Bohol package, which identifies the former for medical and the latter for holiday.
According to Director Lazo, the Philippine medical and wellness tourism market opportunities come from the United States of America/Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, Europe, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Fiji, and other short-haul markets. The DOT has also been gathering market intelligence that would enable Philippine medical and wellness facilities tap potential markets such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Qatar, Ethiopia, and Argentina.