How to Get the Most Out of Medical Tourism
December 8, 2014
In search of Asia's top medical-tourism destinations, Diana Hubbell maps out some itineraries that add fun and relaxation to the equation. Plus the region's finest facilities, weirdest procedures, bet recovery retreats and more. Illustrations by Wasinee Chantakorn.
Published on Dec 8, 2014Page : 1 2
Medical tourism has morphed into a booming industry with an estimated worth of more than US$38 billion, according to Patients Beyond Borders. Some of Asia's most visit-worthy cities are also bastions of top-flight healthcare. That means accessible, private hospitals with the latest technology, armies of world-class doctors and even discounted rates compared to the West. Our prescription for converting those healthcare savings into great vacations? Five getaways centered around checking into—or just getting a check up at—six of Medical Travel Quality Alliance's top 10 hospitals for medical tourism. So get ready to recover in style. With your doctor's blessing first.
With 36 internationally accredited hospitals, more than any other country in Southeast Asia, Thailand remains the leader of the pack. About 1.2 million international visitors went to Thai hospitals in 2012 and, with an estimated 50 to 75 percent savings compared to the United States, it's clear why. Many of the doctors, both at hospitals and upscale private clinics, are trained and certified abroad, though Thailand has solid medical training programs of its own.
Bangkok's visitors are spoiled for choice. Although facilities such as Yanhee International Hospital, which specializes in plastic surgery, and Samitivej's assorted branches draw big numbers, the city's most famous is Bumrungrad International Hospital, which recently completed a sparkling US$12 million renovation of its patient rooms and sports standout technologies such as futuristic image-guided radiotherapy for cancer patients. Out of the 1 million patients who check in annually to see its 1,200 physicians, more than 520,000 are international visitors. It was Asia's first internationally approved hospital and remains one of its most prestigious. bumrungrad.com.
Bumrungrad recently completed a sparkling renovation
With the sheer number of hotels in town, it's easy to get overwhelmed. The Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit's central location near Bumrungrad and serene interior position it as a tranquil choice for patients looking for a little post-op R&R without having to battle the city's notorious traffic jams. 189 Sukhumvit Rd.; +66 2 126 9999; sofitel-bangkok-sukhumvit.com.
Luxe lobby at Sofitel Sukhumvit.
EAT + DRINK
If you're here to heal, head to Rasayana Raw Food Café. where nothing is cooked over 43 degrees Celsius in order to preserve all that natural goodness. Entrees include vegetarian sushi and Thai noodles made of shaved young coconut, which is then dressed with a spicy tamarind-ginger sauce. Bonus: they deliver. rasayanaretreat.com.
There's no better way to unwind after a hospital treatment than with a three-plus-hour, five-part Detox Journey at the Six Senses Spa Pacific City Club. Did we mention it's right up the street from Bumrungrad and has a spectacular 30th-story city view? pacificcityclub.com.
A facial at the Six Senses Spa
As part of its campaign to boost medical tourism, the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched a contest this spring in which three women won a free cosmetic facial surgery, cash and a vacation within Thailand.
Boasting the biggest bang for your buck in Southeast Asia, Malaysia now rivals India and Thailand as a medical destination of choice. The 30 to 50 percent savings over its neighboring competitor Singapore are so substantial that the country drew roughly 600,000 medical tourists in 2012.
Ranked No. 1 on the Medical Travel Quality Alliance's global list, Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur can hold its own against just about any Western medical facilities. The surgery and screening options here are excellent, and patient comfort is a high priority. The hospital's overnight rooms, some with views of the famed Petronas Towers, sport luxury hotel type furnishings. princecourt.com.
If the idea of staying in a hospital room, no matter how tricked out it might be, doesn't appeal, hop a short cab ride to the stately Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur for a reprieve from the city's famously busy streets, where you can keep your fitness levels up with a round of indoor golf or do a few laps in the mammoth free-form pool with views out over the skyline. mandarinoriental.com/kualalumpur.
Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur
EAT + DRINK
KL's culinary melting pot makes Malaysia a fantastic place to eat, but creamy laksa and greasy char kway teow don't exactly fit the bill for a healthful recovery. For a practically perfect post-op weekend brunch, head to Hit & Mrs, where you can either stick to wholesome options like a truffled mushroom salad with walnuts, grains, greens and pumpkin, or go the more decadent route with custardy brioche French toast. thebiggroup.co/hitandmrs
Wholesome fare at Hit and Mrs
For specially tailored, local experiences for either singles or couples, head to Spa Village Kuala Lumpur. Though conveniently close to the major hospitals, this place feels worlds away. spavillage.com/kualalumpur.
Spa Village Kuala Lumpur
According to Scientific American, more than 80 percent of Malaysian doctors are already performing laparoscopic surgery. These minimally invasive techniques usually only involve a tiny incision and as little as two days' recovery. This new technology allows doctors to get a clearer picture of what's going on inside through magnification and X-rays.
The Lion City draws more than 550,000 patients to its 12 private and eight government hospitals. The tiny nation has always enjoyed a stellar medical reputation—in the World Health Organization's famous, if slightly dated, listings, it ranked best in Asia—and boasts more than a dozen accredited facilities. It may not be the best bargain, but it shines when it comes to quality.
When Parkway Holdings, a medical behemoth in Asia, acquired a local hospital in 1987, they poured in at least S$150 million and turned it into a multi-disciplinary, state-of-the-art medical facility. Today, Gleneagles Hospital has more than 300 on-site specialists in a sprawling complex. It also has a proud record of medical achievements to its credit—it was the first hospital in Southeast Asia to perform a living donor liver transplant and to successfully use robotic surgiscope for delicate neurosurgeries. To make things even easier for the modern medical traveler, they have a whole fleet of interpreters available to ensure absolutely nothing is lost in translation. gleneagles.com.sg.
Because Singapore is so small and its hospitals are so numerous, patients don't have to look hard for a plush place to recuperate. The Shangri-La Singapore's (shangri-la.com) central location means easy access to the hospitals, while the health club and Mediterraneaninspired cuisine encourage a fit stay. Meanwhile Oasia Hotel Singapore (stayfareast.com) periodically offers discounts at medical or dental facilities.
Lush massage at Shangri-La Singapore
EAT + DRINK
Despite the name, the dishes at Original Sin are far from decadent. Thankfully, offerings like peppers stuffed with quinoa, chickpeas and pickled grapes, or tandoori-grilled vegetables are more savory than sanctimonious, and the place is worth checking out even if you aren't on a health kick. originalsin.com.sg.
Singaporeans have the highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rate of any Southeast Asian nation, due in part to their excellent health coverage.
Out of all of its top-tier medical offerings, plastic surgery draws the most attention. Some procedures are so drastic that South Korean hospitals have to issue plastic surgery certificates to ensure that their now-unrecognizable clients can get through immigration at the airport. Still, K-Pop makeovers aside, there are plenty of other reasons more than 300,000 international visitors came to the country's hospitals last year. The medical facilities offer top-notch everything, from MRIs and preventive care to spinal surgery.
Take advantage of Seoul's super technology at Wooridul Spine Hospital, a world leader in minimally invasive surgery with more than 1,100 neurospine specialists and medical professionals. To make everything extra easy for medical tourists, the hospital provides airport pick-up and drop-off services, as well as visa assistance, interpreters and tourism advice. wooridul.com.
Joint surgery at Wooridul Spine Hospital
Banyan Tree Seoul is set just slightly apart from a main city street, making it easily accessible from all major hospitals and mercifully peaceful. Continue your health kick with a stop at their oh-so-virtuous Juice Bar, conveniently located next to the fitness facilities. banyantreeclub.com.
A peaceful suite at Banyan Tree Seoul
EAT + DRINK
For vegan goodies like chai-infused muffins with a cinnamon walnut streusel, pop by Alien's Day Out Bake Shop. Most of the ingredients are organic and there are also gluten-free options available. Just the thing to help you heal. aliensbakeshop.com.
Organic muffins, Alien's Day Out Bake Shop
For the ultimate recovery spot, ditch the bustling streets of Seoul for the soothing waters of nearby hot springs. Icheon Termeden, a German-style spa resort specializing in recovery and ailment prevention, offers indoor and outdoor pools filled entirely with mineral-rich, natural spring water, not to mention a traditional Korean sauna. termeden.com.
Male-to-female transgendered patients head to Yeson Voice Center (yesonvc.net) in swanky Gangnam to have their vocal chords shortened and voices "feminized." Other procedures at places such as JK Plastic Surgery Clinic (jkplastic.com/en) include breaking and reshaping the jaw and shaving down cheek bones to provide a more narrow face shape.
The savings here—up to 85 percent compared with some Western nations—are staggering, especially when it comes to pricey heart and orthopedic surgeries. With roughly 250,000 medical tourists per year, India has some catching up to do with destinational titans such as Thailand. Still, the industry is growing and the government keeps improving its health care system; the number of Joint Commission International-certified hospitals has gone from two in 2005 to 21.
Launched with the help of Harvard Medical, Fortis Hospital, Bangalore offers the best of the best when it comes to orthopedics, cardiovascular surgery and minimally invasive surgery. Just as elite and even more specialized is Mumbai's Asian Heart Institute, one of the only places in the world where doctors perform bypass surgeries on still-beating hearts. fortishealthcare.com; asianheartinstitute.org.
The city's only 24-hour spa is just one of many reasons to stay at The Oberoi, Mumbai when you're in town to recover. Consistently one of T+L's top picks in all of India, this luxe flagship property—decked out in oak, ivory and glass—pampers patients from the moment they walk in the door. oberoihotels.com.
Ivory and glass in The Oberoi lobby
EAT + DRINK
Head to Mumbai's ritzy Pali Hill neighborhood for wholegrain buckwheat galettes at trendy crêperie Suzette. Options range from the veg-friendly Alpille, with caramelized onions, goat cheese and zucchini, to the Estragon, with grilled chicken and mushrooms bound by a Dijon-yogurt sauce. suzette.in.
For all-natural treatments drawing on ancient, local roots, JIVA Spa at the Taj in Mumbai is the place to go. Let your body rejuvenate with a Vishuddi detoxifying treatment, where you'll be rubbed down with silk-gloved hands, then swaddled in an Indian herb wrap. tajhotels.com/JivaSpas.
Herbal compress at JIVA Spa
In February 2014, the Asian Heart Institute pulled off a groundbreaking surgery that had never been completed successfully. A patient with an astounding 17 blockages in his heart required 12 bypass grafts, as opposed to the usual three or four. Though previously diagnosed as inoperable, the critical-condition patient survived.