Philippines becoming International Healthcare Hub

By: Charles E. Buban

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Medical or wellness tourism is a term involving people who travel to a different country to receive treatment for a particular health condition or in other cases pursue activities that maintain or enhance their personal health and well-being to enjoy much lower cost of care, higher quality of care if not different care than they could get at their home country.

It is a huge global business—projected to reach $100 billion (4.32 trillion) by 2012.

From this figure, a total of $1.3 billion (56.2 billion) went to the Philippines from 2006 to 2010, thanks to foreign tourists and balikbayans who chose to get their healthcare and wellness services here.

Expensive medical treatment costs, as well as limited healthcare coverage in countries such as the United States and a number of countries in Europe, along with capacity constraints in these countries' healthcare facilities, are driving their citizens to seek elsewhere for more accessible, affordable and comparable medical and wellness services.

The Philippines wanted to grab a bigger share that is now being enjoyed by countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

During the 1st Philippine Global Healthcare Forum at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Health Secretary Enrique Ona acknowledged that the country already boasts world-class medical infrastructure and facilities (in fact, the top three tertiary hospitals located in Metro Manila even added hotel-quality facilities) as well as highly skilled and compassionate doctors, nurses and medical personnel.

Another advantage the secretary cited was the fact that the Philippines has the added competitive advantage of having English-speaking medical personnel.

Convened by HealthCORE, a private corporation specializing in healthcare research and communications and the official Philippine representative of National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers of India, the 1st Philippine Global Healthcare Forum discussed and exchanged information on how the Philippines, with the help of India, can develop into an international healthcare hub.

Medical tourism capital

India is regarded as the medical tourism capital of the world, offering the latest technological advances, experienced and expert physicians and surgeons and world-class patient care.

During the forum, India's Dr. Sanjiv Malik said the Philippines becoming a regional giant is something that is very achievable as the country already has a caring people.

"Your Filipino nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals give the highest level of caring and compassion to patients—it's in your DNA. What you need to do next is to modify your present healthcare practices and systems to conform with international benchmarks. When you do that, you are already on your way to providing the best healthcare to your people and to becoming an international healthcare hub," he advised.

He related that when India improved its international healthcare services, its entire healthcare sector also improved.

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"India was able to upgrade its healthcare system to international standards. As a result, both overseas patients and Indian patients are now receiving international quality health services and medical treatments at prices that are affordable to them," Malik said.

India and the Philippines are now working together under a memorandum of understanding to exchange knowledge, expertise and training in various areas of healthcare and medicine for their mutual benefit.

These areas include medical education, public health, hospital management, health tourism, drugs and pharmaceutical products, medical consumable products, medical equipment, communicable disease control and surveillance, and traditional and alternative medicine.

A much-improved medical tourism, forum guests acknowledged, will have immediate effect in improving the country's economy, much like the business process outsourcing industry is doing at the moment, while retaining its medical talents in the country and reducing the brain drain and its social and economic costs.

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