Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Cross-strait red tape hurts medical tourism: official

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Although Taiwan offers high­-­quality, low-cost medical services, this is not as important in tapping the Chinese market for medical tourism as clearing red tape for severely ill patents, a medical executive said on Saturday.

Wu Ming-yen (吳明彥), ­secretary-general of the Taiwan Non-governmental Hospitals and Clinics Association (NHCA), said that the complicated, time-­consuming application process is deterring very ill Chinese from coming to Taiwan to seek medical attention.

Chinese who wish to visit for medical purposes must first obtain a medical certificate from a doctor in China, verifying that they need specialized care.

Then they must secure acceptance from a Taiwan hospital, which in turn is required to apply to Taiwan immigration authorities on behalf of the prospective patient for an entry permit.

In the final step, the patients have to obtain permission from the Chinese authorities to travel to Taiwan.

Wu said the second and third steps could take up to three weeks and if the applicant is lucky, the last step could take a month.

In response to media inquiries, Liu Ming-hsun (劉明勳), the official in charge of the issue at the Department of Health’s Bureau of Medical Affairs, said authorities were working to relax restrictions and streamline the application procedure.

However, Liu said it could still take a long time for severely ill patients to obtain Chinese authorities’ permission to travel to Taiwan.

He urged the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits to address the matter.

In 2007, Taiwan opened its doors to patients from China seeking live donor liver transplants, maxillofacial reconstruction, artificial insemination, joint replacement and cardiovascular treatment.

However, statistics show that only about 30 Chinese patients have so far traveled to Taiwan for this type of medical treatment.

This number falls far short of the government’s objective of “offering medical services to 100,000 people in three years” at the time when the restrictions were lifted, said Lee Wei-chiang (李偉強), director of Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s International Medical Service Center (IMSC).

The information on the IMSC Web site and the way it is presented indicates that it is targeting China as one of its major sources of patients.

The Web site features both English and Chinese, but the information in Chinese is written in simplified characters, the system used in China.

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