Tech empowers Malaysia-Bangladesh medical tourism

Jannatul Islam

14 September, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Tech empowers Malaysia-Bangladesh medical tourism

Technology-enabled remote medical service, better known as Telemedicine, has brought ‘new opportunities’ for health issuers in medical tourism for emerging markets of Asia in the changing lifestyle amid pandemic.

Telemedicine allows health care professionals to use telecommunications technology to assess, diagnose, and treat patients at a distance. In the past decade, the strategy has gone through a remarkable transformation. For developing economies like Bangladesh, telemedicine helps outbound to receive specialised physicians in Malaysia through connecting over digital platforms easily.

Telemedicine can cut health care costs as resources are more accessible and affordable. In recent years, number of outbound patients from Bangladesh to Malaysia has been increased.

Malaysia received 1.2 million overseas healthcare travelers in 2018 lagging behind US which attracted 0.9 million. Highest number of patients visiting Malaysia comes from Indonesia, followed by Vietnam, Myanmar, Africa, China and India.

Healthcare seekers from Bangladesh, Brunei and Middle East are also showing interest in visiting Southeast Asian country like Malaysia. Malaysian government formulated national strategy title ‘Telemedicine Blueprint’ in 1997 projecting long-term vision.

Consistent with Malaysia’s Vision 2020, the nation’s healthcare system is to be transformed. Under the strategy, Malaysia developed one of ‘most advanced’ health systems of the world by harnessing the power of information and multimedia technologies to transform delivery of healthcare and improve health outcomes.

Global healthcare tourism market is steadily maturing, reflected in the growing number of patients travelling overseas for medical treatment. Credible industry reports estimate that the global medical tourism market was worth about US$20 billion in 2016 and is projected to record a sharp compounded annual growth rate of 18.8 per cent to reach a size of over 47 billion US dollar by 2021.

Malaysia has scooped up the number one spot in the International Medical Travel Journal’s award for ‘Health and Medical Tourism Destination of the year’ consecutively in 2015 and 2016. The nation ranks among the best providers of healthcare in all of Southeast Asia. Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is a government agency that has been entrusted with responsibility of leading country's healthcare travel scene.

While the healthcare travel industry will be private sector-driven, the Government will assume an active role to facilitate its growth. MHTC was founded in 2009 to facilitate and grow Malaysia’s healthcare travel industry under a ‘Malaysia Healthcare’ brand and make it the leading global healthcare destination by 2020.

Since then, the MHTC has worked to streamline industry players and service providers into a more focused development strategy to raise Malaysia’s profile in healthcare travel on an international stage.

GD Assist acts as the official and exclusive representative of MHTC, an extension of Ministry of Health Malaysia, which aims to provide one-stop solution for patient seeking medical attention for emergency or routine health checkup.

GD Assist, a sister concern of Green Delta Insurance, provides value added services in the healthcare sectors of setting doctor appointments at the best hospitals, logistics support, global emergency medical evacuation, visa assistance, air ticket, hotel and accommodation, ground transportation and latest addition of tele-video consultancy amid corona pandemic.

Future healthcare system will be supported and strengthened by telemedicine – the provision of healthcare services using telecommunications, information and multimedia technologies, according to the Telemedicine Blueprint.

Information and other services will become more virtual, and distributed and more integrated, resulting in better, more timely and more efficient healthcare delivery. Telemedicine links people and delivers services by utilising multimedia applications, tools, technologies and networks.

The rapidly growing health tourism is prevalently termed as medical tourism, medical vacation, medical travel or wellness tourism that means traveling across international borders to get health care services.

Health tourism activities include pick-up from the airport, hotel accommodation, ground transportation to and from doctor's appointment and hospital, medical treatment, flight bookings, travel itinerary and more. Many operators have invented patient-specific packages. Over the years, healthcare offerings in Malaysia have been presented as a comprehensive package with all the right ingredients for travelers: world-class quality, easy accessibility and competitive affordability.

There are many health care start-ups have been founded in Malaysia like Naluri, HypoBand and BookDoc which helps patients in developing economies to connect over the specialized physicians in Malaysia.

As a preferred healthcare travel destination, Malaysia offers high value to Bangladeshi health travelers. In addition to the high quality of healthcare services delivered, our standing as a leading global halal hub, coupled with our similarities in food, culture and religion, ensures health travelers’ comfort and peace of mind in seeking healthcare treatment in Malaysia.

Healthcare travelers are also offered Malaysia Healthcare Meet-and-Greet Service, which welcomes healthcare travelers at the aerobridge, assists them through immigration, baggage claim, and hosts them at a dedicated lounge. GD Assist, the largest health tourism management company and partner of MHTC in Bangladesh, offers healthcare travelers all these services and more to make their treatment experience smoother and blissful.

There are 10 partnered hospitals of GD Assist in Malaysia. These are - Cardiac Vascular Sentral Kuala Lumpur, Prince Court Medical Center Multi-Specialty Hospital, Gleneagles Kuala lumpur Multi-Specialty Hospital, Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) Cardiology, Sunfert Medical Center IVF, KPJ Healthcare General Hospital, Pantai Hospital Multi-Specialty Hospital, Sunway Medical Center Multi-Specialty Hospital, Kuala Lumpur Sports Medicine Center (KLSMC) Orthopedics, Beacon Hospital Cancer Hospital and International Specialist Eye Centre – ISEC.

In last week of June, Malaysian government announced that any outbound patient can’t enter to the South Asian country without affiliated channel of MHTC.

GD Assist is lone affiliated body of MHTC in Bangladesh. The health care tourism agency has been offering traditional services through approved Air Ambulance.

Following the Malaysian government's recognition of medical tourism as a growth sector in 1998, substantial investments from government and private sector have been channeled into its creation over last one and half decades.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, Bangladesh lags behind among other South Asian countries in per head allocation of the health sector. The allocation per head in Bangladesh’s health sector is just 88 US dollar. Pakistan’s per head allocation for health is 129 US dollar and India’s is 267 US dollar.  Maldives has the highest allocation of nearly 2000 US dollar per head.

Next is Sri Lanka at 399 US dollar. The United States has the highest per head health allocation in the world, nearly 107 times that of Bangladesh. As the healthcare system is Bangladesh is lag behind comparing to other South Asian Nation, the number of outbound patients to Malaysia has been increasing in recent times. 

Analyzing data of a single medical tourism agency, it’s found that Malaysia becomes a popular destination for outbound patients from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi agency GD Assist sent 70 patients in 2017, 86 in 2018 and 71 in 2019, according to the latest data.

Corona virus pandemic has change the landscape of medical tourism in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world.  In this circumstance, the tele-health segments experienced boom in Malaysia where many companies have been growing through entrepreneur-friendly policy from the government.

Medical tourism agencies have redesign and customise the services integrating existing feature in tele-health model.  It would allow patients, family members, surgeons and other key members of surgical staff to virtually meet face-to-face.

At telemedicine, anesthesiologists can perform with remote physical assessment of cardiovascular and respiratory systems, including airway. Mitigating the risk of hospitalization or reducing the length of hospital stays in the immediate post surgical period. Also reduce many turnaround time of direct consultation.

Many technologies are being produced by people who are attracted to the potential market of health care without really understanding the applicability of telemedicine and all the other concerns, constraints, legalities, and consumer quality and safety issues that arise when their systems are deployed.

Physicians and healthcare facilities considering the use of telemedicine as a way to generate revenues in a lawful manner may realise medical tourism telemedicine strategy is simply not feasible.  Even if the patient wants to pay for the consultation as an independent consumer, the provision of the consultation by an unlicensed provider rendering the service could be deemed against the law.

Much of this depends on the contractual agreement between the parties and where venue, jurisdiction and governing law is declared and how dispute resolution and quality of deliverable are addressed in the agreement.   World has been experiencing worse situation ever amid corona pandemic.

And the challenges will be overcome. We are waiting for ‘a new time’ where the medical tourism will move forward with technology using social media platform.  And telemedicine model will help providers to reach world-class medical services from Malaysia to more patients in developing economies including Bangladesh on digital platforms. We shall overcome, together!


Jannatul Islam is a Staff Correspondent at Dhaka-based Daily Sun newspaper. He can be reached over email at [email protected]