Leading The Charge
By MATT NAYLOR
When considering the question of which country globally has the best healthcare system, a few common answers tend to recur. Germany, the UK, the US, Dubai, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, even Thailand and Jordan, are most people’s go-to responses.
Now celebrating a third year running as the very best in the world, however, is Malaysia.
Proudly named by the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) as the “Medical Travel Destination of the Year” for three consecutive years since 2015, Malaysia has opened the eyes of patients all over the world as the recognised place for healthcare.
Malaysia has also received recognition as the country with the Best Healthcare System in the World from 2015 to 2017 by International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, a further testament to Malaysia’s promise of quality care.
Best In The World
For the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive officer (CEO) Sherene Azli (pic), the IMTJ result was quite the surprise the first time our nation was awarded the honour.
“When I joined at the start of 2015, I really didn’t know where we were on the global stage, so my first priority was to work on building that awareness,” she says.
“I didn’t have any expectations and we were always told that other countries in the region were destinations of choice. I remember when they announced us as the winners, I was holding my phone at the time at the table and I actually dropped it in shock. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.”
The esteemed panel of judges looked at criteria such as quality, accessibility and affordability when selecting their winner.
With prices up to 80% lower than those being offered in the US, without compromising on quality of service, relatively low waiting times and its connectivity to all major transport hubs are some of the traits that earmarked Malaysia to make itself known internationally.
Perception of Malaysia as a destination of choice changed instantly as those in attendance learnt of Malaysia’s newfound dominance in the category.
“The announcement was made during a two-day IMTJ conference in London,” recalls Sherene.
“The first day, almost all of the speakers were talking about Thailand, Singapore, Dubai, Jordan, South Korea, and Europe. The awards were held on the first night.
“The second day, all anybody was talking about was Malaysia. The perception about us literally changed overnight!”
IMTJ has become the industry standard for excellence on the subject, with the award of “world’s best” incredibly prestigious and something that has been a major boon for Malaysia’s medical travel industry.
Malaysia has now won the award the following two years as well and continues to prove why its healthcare system is so celebrated.
“We have set the bar so high now and it is always harder to stay number one than to first get there, so we are really focused now on building awareness and further developing our systems,” says Sherene.
“For an organisation of that credibility and repute to recognise us has really helped to shine a light on the work we are doing.”
The council was formed as recently as 2011 targeting the vision of “Malaysia as the leading global healthcare destination”. Few could have predicted that they would have been honoured as such in just a handful of years.
Putting Patients First
The ambitious CEO has huge plans for the future of MHTC as she continues to focus on delivering the best possible service to those patients arriving from overseas. It is all part of MHTC’s renowned end-to-end service initiative, in which patients are given comfort and convenience even before they arrive on Malaysian soil.
As Sherene describes it: “We have started welcoming patients from the aerobridge at KLIA and Penang International Airport. We also have a concierge and lounge for this need.
“Prior to their travel, they can get in touch with our Call Centre, which will accommodate their needs accordingly.
“We welcome them at the bridge, escort them through passport and immigration and put them in our lounge so that they can wait comfortably for their transport to take them to the hospitals or hotels. This ensures that the process is seamless.
“When they return, of course, they still have access to these facilities so the end-to-end process becomes as convenient as possible. Patients who are very unwell need to be taken care of from the moment they arrive and so that is why we facilitate these things.
“We help establish a connection between our services here and their doctors back home so that they can guarantee the best post-treatment as well once they return home.”
Taking a “customer service” approach to patient care, MHTC has put the needs of the patient ahead of all else. Sherene points to the fact that they are an agency under the Ministry of Health, as proof of their focus on healthcare. “This way, we are able to prioritise medical care and keep the fees regulated,” she adds.
As with any “customer” service provider, however, MHTC is aware of the need to meet the needs of a diverse range of patients. The emphasis on cultural sensitivities and understanding the needs of each individual patient are the foundations upon which the ambitious future of MHTC is being built.
“We have to be culturally aware to the needs of people coming from other countries,” comments Sherene.
“There is no point in us sending somebody from the Middle East to a hospital that does not have halal food options or an Arabic translator.”
This is part of the learning process for her and the MHTC team as they learn more new particulars about each of the nationalities who visit Malaysian shores seeking medical assistance.
She adds: “We need to make sure that our hospitals are sensitive to the needs of patients and caters to them accordingly. You can’t treat any and all patients the same way.
“It can be the smallest thing, but each country has its own culture and we need to have our finger on the pulse of these issues, something we are still learning along the way and adapting to.”
Malaysians as global ambassadors
Constantly innovating and striving for excellence, MHTC has become a cornerstone of those government agencies that are putting Malaysia on the global map.
By being the intermediary between foreign patients and their carefully selected panel of award-winning hospitals, MHTC has created a level of trust in those coming to Malaysia for medical reasons.
A strict vetting process ensures that only the best hospitals in the country qualify to be members, with some 74 in total, a select few of which are given ‘elite member’ status.
These care facilities must have international accreditation and hold an in-house Centre of Excellence so that MHTC can navigate patients towards hospitals specialising in the appropriate discipline.
As word continues to travel, however, MHTC’s focus is on raising awareness locally and encouraging Malaysians themselves to spread the word.
“We need to make our people aware of how good our medical care is here and get them to be the ambassadors globally when they go abroad,” says Sherene.
“Sometimes people take our healthcare system for granted and do not realise what we have locally before venturing for treatment elsewhere.
“In my previous role, I travelled a lot and met with some very influential
“Unaware of the excellent state of our medical travel history, however, I never shared this with anybody, which I now view as a lost opportunity.”
As the country continues to expand its reach, build on its impressive lineup of offerings and battles to keep Malaysia as the world’s number one healthcare travel destination, it will take a collaborative national effort.
MHTC’s bold vision, along with continued support from the government, the Ministry of Health and the hard work of our doctors and nurses providing world-class medical care, the Malaysian medical and travel industries will continue to benefit greatly in the long run.
MHTC will be organising a Medical Travel Market Intelligence Conference on 26th and 27th September at The Vertical, Bangsar South.
The event, InsigHT2017, will feature world-renowned speakers and thought leaders, including MHTC CEO Sherene Azli discussing the state of the industry under the theme Malaysia Healthcare – Going Beyond.