"Discover the sight of the sun and the sky above,
and feel how the wind lifts your soul.”
- Together We Can, official theme song of the First Philippine Medical Congress
Banking on the country’s beautiful places and competent medical professionals, the Philippines is well on its way to becoming an ideal center for medical tourism, the rapidly growing global phenomenon of traveling to other countries to obtain healthcare.
The very high costs of healthcare in industrialized nations, convenience of international travel, along with the availability of world-class facilities and highly skilled medical practitioners in developing countries have pushed forward this industry.
For our own country, the Philippine Medical Tourism Program (PMTP), a private-public partnership created through Executive Order 372, aims to attract foreign clients who need medical care and wellness services, and would probably want to do a bit of sight-seeing on the side.
The PTMP brings together appropriate government agencies like the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Health (DOH) and private sector representatives.
The Philippine advantage
The 2006 SGV Review by Aurora Geotina Garcia and Camille Allessandra Besinga cited that the four key niches of the PTMP include medical and surgical care, traditional and alternative healthcare, health and wellness, and international retirement. They added that with this solid program in place, the government hopes to attract 700, 000 foreign medical clients annually and achieve PhP1 billion in revenues.
The country has some of the best hospitals and specialty clinics, which are equipped with technologically advanced facilities and known for their first-class expertise in various medical fields. Some of the common medical procedures include angioplasty, coronary bypass, eye health services, and cosmetic dentistry.
According to an article published in UDaily, a University of Delaware publication, medical procedures in the Philippines, India, and other developing countries can only reach one-tenth of its cost in the United States or Western Europe. For instance, a heart-valve replacement may cost US$200,000 or more in the U.S. but only US$10,000 in the Philippines and India—and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package. Similarly, a metal-free dental bridge worth US$5,500 in the U.S. costs only US$200 in the Philippines.
Setting a good example of medical facilities in the Philippines that offer high-end hospital and hotel services is the St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC), the first and only JCI (Joint Commission International)-accredited healthcare facility in the Philippines and the second of 24 in Asia. It is affiliated with the New York Presbyterian Hospital, the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, theWeill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
SLMC has also been awarded with the Department of Health (DOH) Gintong Sigla Seal of Approval. To merit this award, a healthcare facility must be accredited by the Philippine Council on Accreditation of Health Organizations (PCAHO) and JCI, recognized worldwide for setting high levels of quality standards in the medical and healthcare professions.
Other partners of the PMTP program are the Makati Medical Center, the Manila Doctors Hospital, the Belo Medical Group, and The Farm at San Benito.
Apart from this, the Philippines is also home to well-trained and highly competent medical professionals. Many of them have been educated in the Western system and have undergone practice and further studies abroad.
Medical tourism may be a promising industry for the Philippines in terms of opportunities and revenues. However, certain tasks have yet to be accomplished: the need to improve medical facilities to pass international accreditation, a legal protection for medical malpractice, and bettering the medical education system to ease the brain drain of Filipino medical experts. Only when these challenges have been surpassed will the Philippines truly be an ideal hub for medical tourism in Asia and in the world.