Experience Penang: Medical tourism

Updated: 15 May 2012

We’ve all seen the effects holidays can have on friends and colleagues and it’s irritating as hell. They mooch off for few weeks presumably to a secluded beach or soon-to-be-discovered hip city and return to the real world with thousands of photos of food which they insist on subjecting the unsuspecting to. Worse still is the accompanying air of well-being, nice teeth and a certain perkiness. Newsflash, it’s not just the effects of the sun or magic cocktails but increasingly likely to be the handiwork of professional surgeons and medical specialists. The times they are a changing and so have attitudes towards medical tourism which is today one of the world’s fastest growing sectors.

The numbers tell an interesting story and Penang’s medical tourism numbers over the past four decades are staggering. In 2011 alone, over 300,000 international patients visited the island to seek medical attention; averaging two jumbo jet loads of patients on a daily basis. According to Nora Hamid, head of marketing at Island Hospital (308 Jalan Macalister. +604 228 8222/www.islandhospital.com) and one of the pioneer committee members of Penang Health, Penang has enjoyed tremendous growth thanks to the hospitals’ range of skills and technology. She is confident that Penang can easily match Singapore (the region’s leading medical tourism destination) for most treatments but at a fraction of the cost.

The high standards of treatment, professionalism of medical staff and the island’s charms as a unique tourism destination, have combined to make Penang a destination of choice for many US, European and Australian patients looking for high quality, yet affordable cosmetic and elective procedures. Popular procedures include breast augmentation, liposuction, facelifts and nose jobs; local hospitals have also recorded an increase in requests for LASIK surgery to correct vision. Dental work, especially root canal treatment, crowning and the production of dentures is another area that has seen demand rise dramatically. Patient’s piece of mind is also equally important. Penang Health (penanghealth.asia) is an organisation led by Penang’s seven largest private hospitals – Gleneagles Medical Centre, Hospital Lam Wah Ee, Island Hospital, Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre, Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital, Pantai Hospital Penang and Penang Adventist Hospital – to effectively match prospective patients’ needs with the appropriate specialist and healthcare provider. ‘Private hospitals tend to compete against each other, this is not the case in Penang,’ explained Nora. ‘Instead private hospitals have been sharing resources to promote Penang as a destination for quality healthcare. Penang Health will advise patients on the most suitable hospital for their treatment.’ Rosalind Chua

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The insider
If you’ve ever considered jetting off for cosmetic enhancement here, Mr. Lee Him Sia, a cosmetic surgeon with the Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre (238 Jalan Macalister. +604 238 8888/www.lohguanlye.com), says there are a few basic things to think about:

- Speak to your local consultant about the procedure you are considering, to get some idea of the benefits and risks involved
- Check out the hospital’s certifications and track record.
- How experienced is your international specialist in a specific procedure? It’s a good idea to do some research.
- Get in contact with the specialist and ask as many questions as you can to familiarize yourself with the procedure and recovery process.
- How long are recovery times? Long recovery times could mean a shorter holiday.
- Can the hospital sort out hotel bookings, holiday arrangements for you and your traveling companions? It’s always good to have friends and family close by.
- How active will you be during the recovery stages? Sitting in a darkened hotel room with Patricia Cornwall paperbacks for two weeks isn’t everybody’s idea of fun.

Tags: Features