How optimistic can we be about medical tourism in 2022?

Medical tourism has been hard-hit by the pandemic. We ask dr. Meike Magnasofa, Executive Director Bali Area at BIMC-Siloam Hospitals Group, on the hospitals’ strategies in these trying times

Before the pandemic, Bali was a promising medical tourism destination, attracting a steady flow of tourists looking to undergo treatment while enjoying the island’s famous beaches and scenery. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely restricted travel, hitting the island’s medical tourism sector hard.

dr. Meike Magnasofa, Executive Director Bali Area at BIMC-Siloam Hospitals Group, shared that the number of tourists has significantly dropped since the first case of COVID-19 in Bali in March 2020.

“It is now stagnant at a very low level, and there is a reduced number of expatriates living in Bali,” she said.

The pandemic has led to a tough period last year, especially when oxygen supplies on the island dropped critically low during a surge in COVID cases. Fortunately, the provincial government was prompt in mobilising its resources to source for and deliver oxygen to all hospitals in Bali. Oxygen supply was prioritised for COVID cases, and hospitals had to postpone its elective surgeries to preserve the scarce resource.

As of February 2022, the Indonesian government had reduced the quarantine period for foreigners from 10 days to 5 days, and announced plans for a travel bubble with certain countries. Though these are welcome news, dr. Meike cautioned that it would still be challenging times ahead for the country’s medical tourism industry.

“The draw of medical tourism is for the tourists to enjoy a holiday while receiving treatment. Now, with the quarantine requirements, time is too limited for those who come for a short holiday; moreover, they also need time to recover after the procedures. It would be difficult to see a return of foreign medical visitors to Indonesia this commencing year. Therefore, we need to focus on domestic travellers instead.”

A shift in strategy

In this difficult operating environment, dr. Meike shared that BIMC and Siloam hospitals in Bali have adjusted and shifted its business strategies.

One of these is in terms of emphasising cost efficiency where possible. Nevertheless, the hospitals have remained dedicated to keeping their staff. As part of Siloam Hospitals Group, which runs 40 hospitals across the country, the hospitals which have lower COVID cases have dispatched some staff members to sister hospitals with much higher COVID caseload.

There is also a push to attract domestic medical tourists from other parts of Indonesia to come to Bali. “We identify those locals who usually go overseas for their treatments, and we offer our services which they can conveniently utilise in Indonesia,” explained dr. Meike.

dr. Meike raised that the Indonesian ministry of tourism and ministry of health are collaborating on an effort to boost and promote its medical tourism industry, especially to reduce the number of Indonesians seeking treatments overseas. The collaboration involves bringing the various industry stakeholders together – from hospitals to travel agents to hotels – to create attractive packages for potential medical tourists. This could be in terms of lower pricing, or seamless itinerary planning between medical treatments and vacations.

“I believe that we have a lot of skilful experts and excellent medical facilities in Indonesia. But we need to be better at promoting the services to stand out amongst the competition across the region,” dr. Meike noted.

Building for the future

Besides the continued push for medical tourism, the hospitals of Siloam Group in Bali have several work plans for 2022 to improve its operations. COVID will still be top of mind – although BIMC hospitals do not treat COVID patients as inpatients at their facilities, they still need to maintain strict screening and triage procedures, to prevent any spread of the virus.

Another priority is in enhancing patient experience, to ensure its services are always a notch above the rest. This covers every aspect of the patient journey, “from prior to arrival at the hospital, when they first arrive, their stay with us, and the follow-ups after they return home.”

While the future remains uncertain for the medical tourism industry, it is not a sign for hospitals in this field to sit back. This period is also an opportunity for these hospitals to build up a solid foundation in quality and safety, which will ultimately up their appeal to patients whether local or foreign.