Transparency Is the Cure for Medical Tourism in Indonesia

by Yohanes Sulaiman ,  Jakarta Globe | 2012-08-17

Cancer treatment may save lives, but it can also cause collateral damage to organs like the heart. And that’s something doctors hope to change with a new study and a new clinic.

Women diagnosed with breast cancer this fall (and meeting criteria) will be asked to participate in the novel study testing a drug that prevents heart scarring after injurious events like heart attacks. The goal is to find out whether the medication protects the heart against the harsh effects of cancer treatment, including chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines.

Last week, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his unhappiness that so many Indonesians decided to go abroad for medical treatments. Immediately, critics had a field day, pointing out that his wife had just recently returned from the United States after undergoing treatment for a nerve problem in her neck.

Later, it was also revealed that the president himself went to Kuala Lumpur for a medical checkup, with the website of the hospital claiming that the president was a regular customer.

Thus, rather than telling people not to go abroad and then risking personal embarrassment from such expose, maybe it was better for the president to actually investigate why people decided to go abroad for their medical treatments.

It is doubtful that the quality of Indonesia’s practitioners is an issue here. While there are obviously some bad apples, bad doctors who performed terribly, a lot of Indonesian doctors are competent, well versed in their skills, with many top-of-the line hospitals being built with modern facilities rivaling hospitals in Singapore and Malaysia.

At the same time, however, the notorious case of Prita Mulyasari came to mind. Dissatisfied with her treatment in Omni International Hospital, Prita vented her anger in an e-mail sent to several of her friends. Unbeknownst to her, the e-mail went viral, and soon her complaints were widely read.

The Omni International Hospital, however, instead of contacting her and trying to settle her complaints, decided to sue her for defamation, with the Tangerang prosecutor’s office deciding to indict her by using the controversial Electronic Transaction and Information Law (ITE). It was later alleged that officials in the Tangerang prosecutor’s office were offered free medical checkups there.


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