Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 12 News List

FEATURE : High potential for medical tourism

BIG BUSINESS: Industry insiders are optimistic about the revenue the sector could bring by tapping into demand for health services in China and elsewhere

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although Taiwan ranked second in the world for medical services in a 2000 report by the Economist Intelligent Unit, inbound medical tourism remains a fledgling industry, lagging behind South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, which have promoted the sector for more than a decade.

Given the efforts to target visitors from Japan and China — two of Taiwan’s biggest sources of tourists — industry insiders say medical tourism could do more than bring in revenue, strengthening Taiwan’s prominence in the field of medicine as well.

Taiwan Medical Tourism Development Association (TMTDA, 台灣觀光醫療發展協會) head Allen Lee (李昆侖) said that if just 5 percent of an estimated 2.2 million Japanese and Chinese tourists over a one-year period spent NT$10,000 (US$305) each on having physicals in Taiwan, medical centers would earn NT$1.1 billion in income.

“Our share of the pie could be even bigger, given that the sector’s output is US$250 billion globally,” Lee said.

The niche market has become increasingly lucrative, with experts estimating that medical tourism could earn India as much as US$2.2 billion per year by 2012.

Singapore has set a goal of attracting 1 million “medical tourists” per year by 2012 and generating US$3 billion in revenue, or 1.6 percent of GDP. Thailand, meanwhile, has established itself as a regional center for spa treatments.

Lee said Taiwan was particularly well-positioned to vie for medical tourists from China, given the cultural proximity, common language and popularity of its tourist attractions.

A 40-year-old Beijing visitor surnamed Hsu (�?greed.

Hsu and 16 other members of a 32-person tour group from China’s capital received positron emission tomography (PET) examinations at Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital (新光醫院) last Monday at a cost of 6,000 yuan (US$878) each.

“The hospital’s services are very good and its equipment is pretty new,” he told the Taipei Times after undergoing the high-end health check.

Hsu said he had heard good things about Taiwan’s medical services by word of mouth after a group from Guangzhou, the first to visit Taiwan for medical tourism, were very satisfied with their experience in June.

The same PET check costs between 10,000 yuan and 12,000 yuan in China, said Beijing MJ Health Screening Co (美兆健檢中心), the organizer of the tour group.

The Beijing group, which wrapped up its six-day trip on Friday, was the second Chinese tour group to visit Taiwan for a combination of health checks, spa treatments and sightseeing since June.

Given Taiwan’s medical expertise and services, many middle and high-income Beijing residents should be interested in visiting Taiwan, despite the fact that hospitals and clinics in their home city offer an array of state-of-the-art medical equipment, said Li Ping (李萍), the administrator of Beijing MJ Health Screening, which has 30,000 members in Beijing alone.

“We look at Taiwan’s quality of medical services,” she said. “A price range of between 6,000 yuan and 8,000 yuan will be very acceptable for Chinese who want to get health checks.”

Li said Chinese are also impressed by the National Health Insurance, under which citizens and residents are covered by the kind of social safety net that Chinese authorities are considering implementing.

Eyeing the market’s potential, Shin Kong Hospital has signed an agreement with Shin Kong and HNA Life Insurance Co (新光海航人壽) — a 50-50 joint venture between China’s Hainan Airlines Co (海航集團) and Taiwan’s Shin Kong Life Insurance Co (新光人壽) — and Beijing-based MJ Health Screening and SweetMe Hotspring Resort (水美溫泉會館) to encourage policyholders and members of these companies to visit for medical tourism.

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