What awaits the traveller?

What awaits the traveller?



Malaysia’s role in health tourism: What can the patient expect?



Andrew Coutts takes a look at what awaits the healthcare traveller in Malaysia.


The Malaysian Government identified the growth potential of medical tourism in the late 1990’s and took the strategic decision to pool the collective strengths of the private and public sectors to harness the country’s medical tourism industry. It was a decision which proved to be extremely productive.

 The unique private/public collaboration which saw health tourism promoted by the Government and fuelled by the corporate sector provided tourists with the stamp of regulatory approval in terms of quality, safety standards and medical related legislation. This endorsement combined with significant investment powered the development of the sector until it was so rudely disrupted in early 2020 by the Coronavirus pandemic. Up until March 2020 health tourism in Malaysia had seen monumental year on year increases in terms of both the numbers of patients travelling for medical treatment and income generated by the activity. Between 2011 and 2018 the number of healthcare travellers’ who visited Malaysia more than doubled from 643,000 to nearly 1.3 million.

Central to the exponential growth of medical tourism has been the considerable influence and work of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), the Malaysian government’s medical tourism arm. MHTC grasped the notion early on that branding is the key to effective marketing and with this in mind, it has developed a unique brand which has become synonymous with a portfolio of services designed to promote and support the ‘whole’ patient experience. Recognising that the medical procedure only forms part of this experience MHTC facilitates the overall patient journey in aspects of accessing information, the most appropriate treatment options for the patient, whilst collaborating with the country’s hotel, travel and leisure sectors to create a memorable truly Malaysian experience. A package of care which has ticked a number of boxes: facilitating the most appropriate treatment options for the patient whilst stimulating the country’s hotel, travel and leisure sectors.

MHTC’s work has also benefitted from the resources it has had at its disposal. The country is blessed with a wealth of available and skilled medical and technical expertise, political and economic stability, excellent infrastructure and transport links and a tourism sector with an exceptional track record in attracting visitors in their millions from all over the world.



What Can Patient’s Expect?


 The country offers healthcare, accommodation, entertainment and travel at very competitive prices. Tourist resorts sit in a tropical climate, ideal for rest and recuperation and there is no need for visitors to obtain a visa for stays less than 90 days in general. The vast majority of care providers speak English and there are no waiting lists for whichever medical treatment you require.

Many of the country’s 200 private hospitals provide excellent rehabilitation and wellness facilities to ensure travellers can access help and support for recovery purposes and each is recognised by internationally accredited bodies including the Joint Commission International (JCI) and the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua) reflecting their commitment to high-quality care.

 This commitment to upholding the highest standards of care and service has consistently attracted external recognition in the form of both travel and healthcare awards. The country has been awarded the “Best Healthcare In The World” category in the International Living Annual Global Retirement Index in four out of the previous five years. At the most recent ‘International Medical Travel Journal Awards’ the country’s total belief in patient-centred philosophy was acknowledged by the awarding of 9 out of the total of 15 honours announced; a feat not matched by any other country in the world.




The Future of Health Tourism in Malaysia


 MHTC recently staged the fifth annual, ‘insigHT’, the region’s medical travel market intelligence conference. This virtual event staged during the Coronavirus pandemic brought together leaders from worldwide medical tourism hubs to discuss the future of the sector.

 As borders begin to open and patients prepare to travel once more in 2021 flexibility, innovation and collaboration were identified as the key drivers for renewal and growth. Malaysia hopes that the blueprint for private and public sector collaboration it initiated in the late 1990’s to promote good health will now enable it to achieve a far quicker recovery than in countries less prepared. The conference acknowledged that the pandemic has also accelerated the need for healthcare to embrace Innovation and digitalisation and harness available technology to assist communication between patient and provider.

The future may not be as certain as it was at the beginning of 2020 but you can be assured that Malaysia with a track record stretching over twenty years is very well placed to harness existing technology and ensure that patients remain at the very centre of the medical and tourism service it provides. 

The Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia and its response

The Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia and its response

The Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia and its response


In a first of a series of articles on Malaysia and its role in world health tourism, Andrew Coutts looks at Malaysia’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Malaysia’s response to the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease was swift and effective. Coherent and collective action from individuals, policy makers and practitioners very early into the pandemic proved to be a key factor in the country, with its population of 31 million people, limiting both cases and deaths whilst supporting and then promoting individuals and the economy at large.

The country acted quickly following the first COVID-19 case outside China which was reported in Thailand on 13 January 2020, establishing an effective screening process at all airports. This was followed shortly after by an initial financial stimulus package over nearly £4 billion and a subsequent £46 billion ‘PRIHATIN’ package to aid micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises for employee retention.

Financial packages were further supported by federal measures such as the Movement Control Order enforced in March 2020, and widely adopted media campaigns promoting the hashtag #stayhome, did much to reduce both the unessential movement of peoples and infections. Cross sector collaboration was exemplified by large numbers of Non-Governmental Organizations assisting in the production of personal protective equipment as well as support from both conventional and Islamic insurance sectors who established a multi-million pound fund to assist with COVID-19 testing.

In the early days of the pandemic most companies had their employees working from home; Non-Governmental Organisations took on the immense role of helping to provide food and shelter for the homeless and all educational institutions, schools, and higher education institutions closed their doors to face to face teaching.

The country reported its first COVID-19-positive case on 25 January 2020 and by mid-April the figure had risen to almost 4,500 with 70 deaths; significant numbers but substantially lower than other countries that were following a similar timeline trajectory. These included the U.S. which had recorded 502,876 cases with 80,747 deaths and the U.K. with 73,758 recorded cases and 8,958 deaths.

In part the successful management of the pandemic at its early stage was due to the way that the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department (Economy), Health Ministry, Finance Ministry and the National Security Council were able to adapt to a very fluid situation. Health screening at all points of entry into the country and the Movement Control Order were enlisted rapidly but so too was the establishment of cross sector collaborations aimed at supporting the growing health needs through financial and logistical assistance.

The Malaysia Health Coalition, established by the collaboration of 38 medical societies was a perfect example of this which supported the effort of the Ministry of Health to ensure the transparent flow of accurate health information.

A dedicated COVID-19 Fund was also launched to assist patients who had been directly affected by quarantine procedures and those without an income received a daily subsistence sum whilst either being treated or in quarantine.

The Ministry of Health also converted the country’s largest convention centre into a 604 bed field hospital and made provision for conversion of indoor stadiums and public halls should they be required; there was also a commitment from 3,000 retired nurses who were prepared to return to work voluntarily.

As a result of early federal intervention; the mobilisation of private and public sectors and most importantly a population who were prepared to follow the rules regarding essential regulations such as the wearing of face coverings and social distancing, Malaysia fought and continues to fight COVID-19 as effectively as an other nation in the world.

At the time of writing, the country was ranked 64th in the world based on the number of positive cases of COVID-19.

As we all look to the future with renewed optimism that a number of vaccines may be effective to stimulate immunity from COVID-19, policy makers and practitioners are moving from a position of maintenance and defence to growth and redevelopment. The redevelopment is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the field of healthcare tourism.

The recent Governmental change in Malaysia has established an Economic Action Council to target economic regrowth. The Ministry of Health has benefitted to the tune of £110 million from the fund and almost £6.5 million has been set aside for work undertaken by the Malaysia Healthcare Tourism Council (MHTC), an increase of 40%.

The confidence placed in the work of MHTC by the Malaysian Government is both testimony to the work undertaken by the Council to date which has seen the country become one of the leading destinations for medical tourism in the world and its perceived ability to act as a catalyst for economic growth as the world reopens for business. A point not lost on MHTC’s chief executive officer, Sherene Azli who said following the recent fund announcement,

“The increase in federal support will further optimise the healthcare travel industry for economic revitalisation and has the ability to contribute up to RM10 billion (£1.9 billion) to the economy as the industry recovers.”

Over the coming months we will examine how Malaysia has taken the niche mantle of health tourism, developed it, and enabled it to become one of the country’s major assets. An asset which has been on pause for much of 2020 but will surely emerge just as strong in 2021.