Medical tourism is a $40 billion annual market, growing at 20% a year. Most of that growth is in Asia, led by India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. All told, some 11 million travel outside their country every year to receive care elsewhere, going to some 50 different countries, according to American Josef Woodman, author of the medical tourism guidebook “Patients Beyond Borders.”
Many medical tourists are looking to Asia for quality care at lower prices than what’s available in Western countries. For example, last year some 2.5 million medical travelers went to Thailand and spent $4.3 billion on medical tourism in the country. Thailand became a medical tourism destination after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when the government began to market Thailand as a medical tourism destination to restore growth. In areas such as cosmetic surgery, Thailand has become one of the world’s top destinations for this procedure.
Where is Indonesia in the medical tourism game? Sadly, it is missing the opportunity. Despite the introduction of a new national healthcare plan and other measures to improve healthcare, Indonesia so far has not really participated in this market, though it is close to three of the biggest medical tourism countries in Asia (Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand).
To be sure, some steps have been taken. Back in 2012, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, well as officials from the Ministry of Health and the Bali local government, launched a partnership between Bali’s BIMC Hospital and the adjacent Courtyard by Marriott Bali hotel to offer the country’s first ever medical tourism packages and services to medical travelers visiting Bali. However that initiative appears to be largely a nonstarter. Since the partnership, BIMC Hospital and the Courtyard by Marriott Bali have not seen a huge influx of medical tourists, and BIMC was recently acquired by Siloam hospitals. “Bali can learn a lot from Thailand,” says Josef.
One advantage offered by Bali is its reputation for wellness services, such as yoga centers, therapeutic massages, jamu herbal medicine and healthy cuisines. This reputation for wellness could be combined with more traditional medical services to attract more medical tourists.
A step in the right direction was the opening last year of the Cocoon Medical Spa in Bali. It offers a fusion of wellness services and medical care, mostly focused on cosmetic surgery including botox treatments. It also offers detox packages that feature colon hydrotherapy and the use of an infrared sauna.
The problems of Bali are symptomatic of the country overall, which suffers from an underdeveloped healthcare sector. There are 0.2 physicians and 0.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people in Indonesia, which is the lowest figure in ASEAN, compared to Singapore’s 1.9 physicians and 2.0 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Of the 2,300 hospitals in Indonesia, only 17 have been accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI), which is considered the benchmark accreditation for global healthcare (672 hospitals are JCI accredited worldwide). Only one of those 17 is in Bali, the Rumat Sakit Umum Pusat Sanglah, which was accredited last year.