Is medical tourism here to stay? BIMC Hospitals Group weighs in

For BIMC Hospitals Group, COVID-19 does not signal the end of medical tourism in Indonesia.

Most countries have closed their borders as a response to the pandemic. Airlines have declared bankruptcy and the tourism industry is in a flop. This means an urgent problem that needs troubleshooting for hospitals that rely on medical tourism. For BIMC Hospitals Group, this problem will not persist for the long term.

As with the case in Thailand’s Bumrungrad Hospital, BIMC saw a decline in the number of foreign patients due to the pandemic. From about 70% of medical tourists, BIMC had recorded a “close to zero” number of foreign patients. Because Indonesia had closed its borders, the only international patients at BIMC were those who remained in the country because of either an ongoing appointment or a missed chance to fly out of the archipelago.

Dr Meike Magnasofa, Hospital Director of BIMC Nusa Dua, Operation Coordinator of BIMC-Siloam Bali, and General Manager of Siloam Hospitals Bali, understood that this situation is unavoidable given the global situation. As a response, BIMC Hospitals implemented cost reduction measures on areas that have no direct impact on medical operations. They reviewed the staff’s working hours and strictly instigated energy efficiency measures. Equally, they have started using telemedicine to provide care for local patients and international ones who plan to undergo elective procedures once borders re-open.

Despite the weakening status of medical tourism in Indonesia, BIMC Hospitals Group remains optimistic that the industry will get back to its feet. For Dr Magnasofa, this confidence is influenced by various factors that make Indonesia a popular destination for foreign patients.

The Asia Pacific is increasingly becoming a popular hub for medical tourism. Most patients fly to Asia to get medical treatment because of cheaper costs and shorter queues. If you, for example, undergo surgery in Asia, you will pay just one-tenth of the cost for the same procedure in the US or Europe.

Most international patients who seek treatment at BIMC are Australians, Russians, Chinese, Germans, Americans, Dutch, Japanese, British, New Zealanders, and French. Oftentimes, these patients seek treatments related to internal medicine, ENT, and accidents while on holiday. In the context of medical tourism, they often book elective procedures on cosmetic surgery, dental treatments, and travelling haemodialysis. If they choose to get their treatments done in their home countries, they’ll pay higher and wait longer for a procedure of the same quality that can be done in an internationally accredited hospital in Asia.

Likewise, Dr Magnasofa believes that Indonesia as a tourist destination adds to the reasons why medical tourism in the country will not lose its attractiveness. It has a complete package for medical tourists, including quality healthcare services and facilities, beautiful attractions, sophisticated hotels and restaurants, and hospitable English-speaking people.

In 2017, the Indonesian tourism ministry and health ministry entered into an agreement to advance international medical tourism in the country, with BIMC in the forefront being a popular hospital for tourists in Bali. Hence, BIMC is confident that government policies will support rather than restrain the industry.

To position BIMC as an international hospital that accepts foreign patients, the hospital has partnered with insurance companies in Australia where the majority of their international patients come from. On the same note, BIMC Hospital Nusa Dua is the only hospital in Indonesia accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards. BIMC ensures it has national and international accreditations to build its credibility as a quality provider of medical care.

BIMC might have suffered a blow from COVID-19, but it has only left a dent that can be fixed through time. Looking ahead, as long as foreign patients see value in the care provided by an international hospital, medical tourism is here to stay.