By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman, Reporter
QUEZON CITY aspires to be the “wellness capital of Asia,” said Mayor Herbert Bautista at the QC Medical Tourism Stakeholders Summit on June 6. This endeavor entails time, infrastructure, and public-private partnerships, among others. But what the city of three million people currently has to offer is its “good doctors and nurses who have handle of the English language” and its many “good hospitals,” he said.
Perhaps, we can learn from our neighbor, South Korea, which is one of the top medical tourism destinations in the world?
The summit invited Abrianna Kim, the chief executive director of Korea’s Medical Tourism Association, to share her knowledge. According to her presentation, South Korea is third in the world in 2015 as an aesthetics destination next to United States and Brazil. South Korea welcomed 296,889 international patients and earned five trillion Korean Won for beauty treatments including teeth whitening and cosmetic surgery in 2015. Its top foreign clients, in order, are Chinese, Americans, Russians, and Middle East Asians. Outside the beauty department, Ms. Kim said South Korea has 64.9% survival rate in cancer treatment.
According to the Allied Market Research Forecast report, the global medical tourism industry will be at $143 billion by 2020.
South Korea, said Ms. Kim, has become a leader in the industry because of an “efficient business cluster hub that works like a machine.” Within the hub are hotels, hospitals, clinics, spas, and malls. The idea is that patients do not need to go out of the area to look for a place to stay or to relax after their medical procedures. Establishments are accessible and safe, and are equipped with the latest technology. A low patient-to-doctor ratio is also important.
“In Korea, international patients get the benefit of timely medical advice and quality medical care. Their time is not wasted as there is no such thing as waiting lists. I want to remind the Quezon City hospitals that the topmost thing that turns off medical patients is a waiting list. They have the money and resources to find other venues,” said Ms. Kim.
South Korea also has a medical tourist visa: G1 (for patients with maximum stay of one year) or C33 (for patients with maximum stay of 90 days).
Speaking to the journalists after Ms. Kim’s talk, Mr. Bautista said the city already has its hospital zone, which includes the Kidney, Heart, and Lung Centers, and the hospitals around it. According to the Quezon City Web site, the metro has 58 hospitals, 66 health centers, and 739 dental clinics. What the city needs are “allies, because we do not want our patients or their families to go outside of the zone,” said Mr. Bautista. “The challenge is how will you encourage them, which is tax incentives.”
He identified Luxent and Sequoia hotels near the Tomas Morato area, which can cater for nearby institutions like St. Luke’s Medical Center and Delos Santos Hospital.
Seda Hotel in front of TriNoma-Landmark will be fully operational before the year ends and the Mayor is anticipating that a couple more will be operational in 2020 or 2021. There are also plans of encouraging residents to open their homes to medical tourists. Mr. Bautista said the challenge is to convince families “who have a thinking that ‘teka, bakit ko papatirahin ’yung may sakit sa amin?’” by giving them tax incentives.
He also realized the need to cooperate with the Department of Foreign Affairs for health-related visas, which we do not have. Mr. Bautista said that these are all plans, and he hopes that they will be pursued after his third and last term ends in 2019, after all, he said, “politics should know no personalities or parties.”