May 26, 2015
Just like individuals, countries make claims. They make claims to being the smartest, the strongest, the most this, and the most that. And in health and wellness travel, world-class medical tourism in Singapore has in the past had a legitimate claim to being the best, certainly among Asian nations.
Perhaps they’re still entitled to this assertion. After all, hundreds of thousands of patients continue to flock there to avail themselves of the country’s world-class doctors and surgeons, top-flight hospitals, advanced treatments . and English-speaking medical community.
However, over the past couple years the competition has crept up fast, and now two of Singapore’s nearest neighbors – Thailand and Malaysia – are each considered by many experts to be the new “best destination” for medical tourism in Asia, or indeed the world.
Why is a country as advanced as Singapore losing medical tourists to places with much smaller per-capita GDPs? Five key reasons indicate that the former is doing a few things wrong, and the latter are doing many things right.
1. It is more affordable in Thailand and Malaysia
A penny saved is a penny earned, so most medical tourists carefully consider several destinations when evaluating the expense of care overseas. If you’re looking for affordable heart bypass surgery you may not opt for Singapore: it costs 41% more than in Thailand and is more than twice the price of Malaysia.
2. Thailand is better overall for medical holidays
Not just cardiology costs more in Singapore. Thailand wins on price for most treatments, including specialties like laser eye procedures, drug & alcohol rehabilitation . and cosmetic surgery. And Singapore falls short in the other sphere of medical tourism: it may be a clean and modern city, but Thailand’s beaches, waterfalls, shopping, and nightlife offer better holiday fun pre – or post-treatment.
3. The gap in treatment standards is narrowing
A country’s healthcare standards can be measured in the number of internationally-certified medical facilities. Singapore has long been a standout in terms of hospitals earning prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI)-accreditation, but Thailand and Malaysia now boast of an abundance of JCI facilities, too. Thailand, for example, has 44 such facilities, whereas Singapore has 21. The former is also home to medical tourism’s most well-known hospital (Bumrungrad International), and Malaysia to medical tourism’s highest-rated hospital (Prince Court Medical Center).
4. Strong Singapore dollar = weak exchange rates
Exacerbating the higher healthcare costs in general is the fact that the Singapore dollar has strengthened against many of its neighboring countries’ currencies. Indonesian medical tourists, for example, accounted for nearly US$500 million in revenues in 2013, but with the Singapore dollar rising a further 24% against the Indonesian rupiah the past two years, Thailand and Malaysia have become more economical options.
5. Decreased support from government agencies
This has to do with promotions and marketing, and Singapore’s once-robust governmental support for the medical tourism industry has cooled recently. On the contrary, Thailand continues its aggressive advertising through online channels, and Malaysia’s flagship airline now offers discounted airfares for patients from certain countries.
All in all, Singapore is of course still a reputable, worthwhile option for many medical tourists. It will continue to lead for sophisticated cancer diagnoses and treatments – among other medical specialties. But for many patients considering Asian destinations for their care, they’ve got plenty of places to choose from, with Thailand and Malaysia being the logical choices.