Visit for your health

Updated: 17 Aug 2012

With variety and quality on her side, Penang's an attractive healthcare choice and medical tourism destination, say Maggie Trent and Rosalind Chua.

Malaysia is currently ranked among the world’s top five medical tourism destinations and over 300,000 international patients were treated in Malaysia in 2010, attracted by the country’s affordable, high-quality medical treatment. Penang was at the forefront of those statistics, accounting for over 70 per cent of the nation’s medical tourism receipts. This was recently acknowledged in a special CNBC broadcast where Penang took the spotlight as one of the world’s fastest growing medical tourism destinations. In 2009, over 200,000 patients visited Penang for medical treatments with over three-quarters arriving from within the ASEAN region.

Why Penang?
The island of Penang has excellent medical facilities, and many highly qualified and experienced doctors. But what makes this so different from other countries? What’s so special about Penang?

The first great thing about Penang’s medical business is the ease with which the prospective patient can get to see a consultant specialist. In many countries, especially in the west, a patient may be given an appointment several months in the future, unless it’s an immediate emergency. In Penang, the situation is very different; it’s possible to see a consultant specialist on a few days notice and in some cases, a same day appointment is possible.

Secondly, you’ll benefit from a combination of various things. The island has carved out a formidable reputation for medical tourism over three decades and Penang’s modern private hospitals and dental surgeries have treated thousands of international patients, attracted by the island’s high quality healthcare sector. Penang not only enjoys excellent medical facilities and highly qualified professional staff, it also boasts a world-class resorts and tourist attractions allowing patients and their families to recuperate and take a much-needed break.

Despite stiff competition from regional competitors, Penang continues to see patient figures rise year after year. Compared to Singapore, the costs of medical treatment, accommodation and dining in Penang are as much as 40 per cent lower, while the standard of healthcare is comparable.

Unlike Thailand, which has experienced political turmoil (and disruptive airport blockades) recently, Penang offers recovering patients a laid back, stress-free island experience. Moreover, 90 per cent of Penang-based doctors received their postgraduate training in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada, so the standard of spoken English is high, enabling more effective communication.

The price is right
The good news is that although the costs of medical procedures are constantly increasing, the costs of the same procedure in Penang will often be a fraction of the price in other countries. You can get an Executive Health Screening (a comprehensive outpatient check up including a cardio- stress test, plus laboratory tests for dozens of conditions) in Penang for about US$250 to 300, whilst an angioplasty is approximately US$15,000, a hysterectomy will set you back about US$4,000, knee replacements go for about US$8,000, and a heart bypass costs about US$12,000. In the US, the latter averages at US$130,000.

And lower prices don’t mean any compromise on quality. Medical tourism in Malaysia is closely monitored by the Malaysian Ministry of Health (+603 8883 3888/ and Ministry of Tourism (+603 2693 7111/ to guarantee visiting patients firstclass treatment and care.

To provide prospective patients with more information and help match patients’ needs to suitable healthcare providers, seven of Penang’s largest private hospitals recently established the Penang Health Association (PHA) to work collectively to promote Penang as a medical destination and to make Penang the centre of medical excellence for patients.

The super seven are Gleneagles Medical Centre (+604 220 2109/, Hospital Lam Wah Ee (+604 657 1888/, Island Hospital (+604 228 8222/, Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre (+604 238 8888/, and Penang Adventist Hospital (+604 222 7200/ in George Town, and these five are joined by Mount Miriam Hospital (+604 890 7044/ in Tanjung Bungah and Pantai Mutiara Hospital (+604 643 3888/ in Bayan Lepas.

Accessible and stress-free
Penang is easy to get to (and convenient enough for friends to come visit you when you’re recuperating) with air links to all major cities in Southeast Asia. There’s ample public transportation on the island, and all of Penang’s main hospitals are within easy reach. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to get to any one of them from wherever you are. Another important plus for Penang is that Malaysia has easy visa requirements for tourists and will allow a visa extension of up to six months with an appropriate letter from the medical centre you are attending.

When considering an overseas trip for a medical procedure, after determining the quality and cost of the work that needs to be done, the ancillary attractions of the chosen location should be considered. In many cases, it will be necessary to spend time in the location, between being discharged from hospital and follow-up checks with the specialist. For this, help comes from Penang’s private hospitals themselves. All the private hospitals have there own Customer Service Department that assist patients in booking hotels of their choice.

Still, if you’re planning ahead, better packages may be available from the internet or directly with hotels. And check with your Medical Insurances Company if they have a representative in Penang, as they could arrange hospital and hotels together for their clients, especially for planned ahead, insurable treatments like hip replacement or heart bypass.

Currently, Penang’s private hospitals are working at putting together a common service centre to handle all patients’ enquiries, appointments and travel arrangements. But whilst the island’s private hospitals offer patients outstanding care to reduce post-operative stress, there are also plenty of gorgeous spas to choose from, acupuncturists and other traditional healing practitioners to complement conventional treatments. Plus, recovery is speeded up thanks to Penang’s all-year-round sunny weather, excellent food and beautiful natural scenery.

The prices quoted above are from CNBC’s report on medical tourism in Penang and confirmed with hospitals as representative figures. However, we advise anyone interested in seeking medical treatments in Penang to still seek prices from the relevant hospitals.


The services most in demand by international patients include cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, orthopaedic, and obstetrician and gynaecology services, general medical screening and cosmetic surgery. It’s estimated that cosmetic surgery accounts for a quarter of all medical treatment including breast augmentation, liposuction, facelifts and nose jobs. Also topping the list were LASIK surgery to correct vision and dental work that covered root canal treatment, crowning and the production of dentures.

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