The Emerging Medical Tourism Industry In The Philippines

For the past decade, the travel and tourism industry continues to have a significant impact on the Philippines’ economic growth. According to the latest report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the industry has contributed a total of Php 1.43 trillion to the nation’s economy in the previous year. This is equivalent to about 10.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The figure, creating another promising economic growth engine, is also forecasted to rise by 6.6 percent this year and an additional 5.4 percent increase by 2026.

As a tropical archipelago brimming in biodiversity and rich culture, destinations in the Philippines have been commonly visualized as beaches, underwater gardens, mountains, and historical and cultural sites. But apart from natural and cultural awes, the Philippines has become the prime destination for medical tourists. And our country has been gaining international popularity for the past few years.

Traveling for Health care
The emerging medical tourism industry is primarily fueled by the demand for a more inexpensive treatment cost compared to western countries–such as that of the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite being a fraction of the cost, the Philippines maintains and delivers high quality medical procedures and health standards.

Traditionally, people from underdeveloped countries have no choice but to seek medical treatments in highly developed countries due to the lack of availability in their country. But because of the globalization of medical technology, the present situation has reversed, especially when clients get the same–or in many instances, even better quality medical procedures and services at a relatively lower cost-condition.

When it comes to the medical tourism industry, the Philippines generated $66 million in 2013 but tremendously grew to $145 million in 2014, according to the 2014 study by Ian Youngman, a medical tourism author. Records also show that the country now serves approximately 80,000 to 250,000 patients annually.

If asked, would you believe if you were told that the Philippines actually belongs to the list of the top ten most popular countries in the global medical tourism industry?

According to the list of the International Healthcare Research Center and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), the Philippines now ranks 8th among the top medical tourism destinations in the world—ranking even ahead of developed countries and economic superpowers like Japan and France.

Philippines vs The World: Country Cost Comparison (Click to enlarge)

MTA, a non-profit global association for the medical tourism and international patient industry, works with healthcare providers, governments, insurance companies, employers, and other buyers of healthcare–with a primary focus on providing the highest quality transparent healthcare.

Popular Medical Treatments in PH
Among the most popular services offered in the Philippines are surgeries, therapies, dental services, cosmetic services, and other medical treatments.

In recent years, unknown to most Filipinos, people have already been traveling to the Philippines for medical treatment before the country even became a popular healthcare destination.

According to a recent study released by Transparency Market Research, the cost of treatment in developing medical tourism countries ranges from 20% to 30% less than the cost in the United States—allowing the patient to save up to 30% to upwards of 85% on medical services.

Because of the low cost of living in the Philippines compared to other developed nations, the country offers relatively less expensive medical rates for expatriates and tourists.

Also, the leading hospitals in the country offer state of the art medical equipment that are on par with top institutions in other nations like the US and Europe. In fact, five hospitals have been certified for excellent medical care by the Joint Commission International (JCI), one of the most prestigious healthcare accrediting bodies in the United States.

These medical institutions include:
01 Asian Hospital and Medical Center, Muntinlupa City
02 Makati Medical Center, Makati City
03 St. Luke’s Medical Center, Bonifacio Global City
04 St. Luke’s Medical Center, Quezon City
05 The Medical City, Pasig City

At the same time, 62 hospitals around the country are now internationally accredited according to the Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Trade and Industry – Board of Investments (DTI–BOI)’s latest report.

Also, foreign tourists do not have to worry about language barriers in the Philippines like other countries in Asia. English is widely spoken–not only by medical professionals but by almost 90 percent of the Filipino population. Aside from that, Filipinos are known for their warm hospitality and compassionate attitude. This kind of treatment comes free of charge and is now considered to be one of the country’s best innate assets.

The Challenge
Even though the Philippine medical industry is still maturing, we are being recognized by the international community. This is definitely something to be proud of. However, this industry is mainly captured by the private sector. As Filipinos, our challenge lies here.

People from the lower class of the economy–even in the middle class–finds private hospitals too expensive so they turn to public medical facilities. But what’s so bad about the public medical facilities?

To be clear, public hospitals and health centers do not necessarily mean bad services. There are many jewel public hospitals such as the Heart, Lung and Kidney Centers and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center. Still, we cannot deny that public health facilities are generally perceived to provide lower quality health services than private ones.

Back in 2006, the Philippine Medical Tourism Program was launched through the Departments of Health, Tourism, Trade and Industry, and Foreign Affairs. This program aims to ensure that the Philippines is globally competitive through implementation of quality standards in both public and private sector.

To realize our full potential as the best medical destination in the World, the country must promote and create partnerships in the private and public health sectors. That way, more Filipino citizens can also appreciate, enjoy, and afford quality health care services—which they deserve to begin with.

Dana Sioson
Dana Sioson

An artist who weaves words into stories and paints moments with light. She's a writer and photographer who is fond of sports, films, and fishes.

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Spotlighting the growth, development, and progression of the Philippines since 2009. Balikbayan Magazine is a publication of the Asian Journal Media Group.