Rise in medical tourism noted

Business Mirror | 2009-02-23

CEBU CITY—Players in medical tourism here are confident the region will continue to attract clients, as shown by the modest but steady rise in foreign patients the past several months.

Oscar Tuason, administrator of Cebu Doctor's University Hospital and chairman of Cebu Health and Wellness Council, said Cebu province’s tourist attractions, modern health-care facilities and professionals and affordable rates make this destination a viable option for tourists.

"As long as the United States continue to charge exorbitant fees for medical procedures and as long as waiting line for services in Europe remain long, there will always be a desire to look for alternative destinations like the Philippines and Cebu," Tuason said.

Cebu Doctor's in January received 60 patients. Last year it registered around 10 foreign patients a month. Tuason said the hospital now aims for 100 foreigners a month for the rest of the year.

The hospital has rolled out a project to build suite rooms to accommodate foreigners ahead of an expected surge in patients from overseas, Tuason added.

He said most of the patients are Europeans in need of outpatient procedures, executive checkups, gastrointestinal procedures and heart surgery.

Cebu Doctor's, apart from going into partnerships with the island's biggest hospitals and medical professionals, is also associated with hotels, travel operators and spas in the urban center and resort hotels in Mactan.

The group envisions Cebu a top destination for retirees, as well as spa and wellness, as adjunct to medical services.

"Medical tourism is something very exciting for all of us," said Marco Protacio, general manager of Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and president of the Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants Association of Cebu.

Tuason said the Philippines is unique because its closet medical competitors India and Thailand are having political problems.

"There may be a slowdown in travel but the need for medical attention is still there," Tuason said.

He said Cebu’s top hospitals, which include Cebu Doctor's, Chong Hua Hospital and Perpetual Succour Hospital, offer services on a par with hospitals in the United States and Europe. These hospitals are also moving forward on accreditations with top medical insurers JCI in the US and Trent in Europe.

The country's medical tourism industry is also set for a "once in a lifetime” boost when it plays host to the World Health Tourism Congress in late March.

Organized by the Department of Tourism, the congress will be the first-ever to be held in Asia and gathers the top players in the industry for business meetings with buyers and service providers. The event was held last year in Spain, in Cyprus in 2007 and in Germany in 2006.

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