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The Pinoy Touch: beyond skin deep

Face lifts are only a small portion of the $72-billion global business of medical tourism


Text by Mae Lorraine Lorenzo

Image by Jovel Lorenzo


Recently, an online article said that a group of Chinese tourists went to South Korea to avail of plastic surgery—a procedure that the country has been famous (or infamous) for years. A viral photo which accompanied the story showed the group stranded in an unknown airport, and was said to have been refused to board their flight home. The reason? Their faces were so swollen and have drastically changed after the surgery that airport personnel could no longer confirm their identity in their passports.

The article, which came out in Yahoo news, may seem incredulous, but it doesn’t change the fact that almost 500,000 Chinese tourists head to other countries to avail of facial reconstruction under South Korea’s medical tourism campaign, with “face lift” at the forefront of their program.

This ‘phenomenon’ is only a portion of the growing $72-billion global industry of medical tourism—and aesthetic procedures are only a part of it. A big chunk of the market, medical diagnostics and procedures, plays a major role in the success of this tourism aspect. And this is where the Philippines comes in.

In 2016, the country was recognized as the eighth best medical tourism destination in the world by the International Healthcare Research Center and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), an international, non-profit association for medical tourism and international patient industry representing healthcare institutions, LGUs, insurance companies, employers, and other buyers of healthcare.

According to the Department of Tourism (DOT) website, the Philippines has been growing as a tourist destination of choice for health and vacation because of our world-class physicians, and modern technology. But more than that, our selling point to capture the medical tourism market is Filipino hospitality, a unique trait that transcends not only to the everyday tourist, but patients availing of medical treatment in the Philippines.

To date, statistics show that the Philippines services around 80,000 to 250,000 patients every year. As of the DOT, DOH, DTI-BOI’s latest count, 62 hospitals around the country are now internationally accredited, and five medical institutions lead the list of those accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI), the only patient safety and quality healthcare accreditation and certification body with membership in more than 100 countries: Asian Hospital, Makati Medical Center, St. Luke’s Medical Center (Global City and Quezon City), and The Medical City.Although most of these institutions can be found in Metro Manila, note that there is already notable efforts in other regions in the country to boost the medical tourism market.

Untapped Market

Medical tourism simply refers to individuals who travel to another country and seek medical help for treatments that are not available in their own nation. These countries often offer the option of state-of-the-art treatments, modern medical technology, world-class medical infrastructure, and of course, highly-competent doctors, and medical personnel.

Globally, there’s a $72-billion global tourism market according to figures shared during the last World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress (WMTC) held in Washington DC—and local government sectors in the Philippines hope to get a piece of the pie by establishing their own medical tourism programs.

In Metro Manila, the local government of Quezon City (QC) is considered as one of the most bullish players in the local medical tourism market today, offering the best medical options and combining it with holistic wellness offers.

Early this year, the Quezon City Tourism Department held the “QC Medical Tourism Stakeholders Summit,” which gathered various Quezon City tourism stakeholders. Aside from representatives from the private and public hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ associations, also in attendance were members of various travel agencies, hotels, spas, gyms, and wellness centers.

During the event, QC Mayor Herbert Bautista shared his vision of setting the stage for Quezon City to become the “Wellness Capital of Asia.” Together with the DOT, the Bautista hopes that the summit would kick start plans to raise the profile of QC in the world medical tourism stage.

“On a global scale, I have learned that medical tourism is one of the so-called sunrise industries. A report forecasts the World Medical Tourism market to be at $143 billion by 2020. Growth is phenomenal and the Philippines is poised to benefit because of our hospitality, skilled doctors, and ready facilities. QC wants to be part of it,” he said.

To further stress the city’s commitment to pursue its vision to become a Medical and Wellness Tourism destination, Bautista led in the signing of a “Vision 2020 Commitment” detailing steps and action plans to make Quezon City a top medical tourism destination.

“Medical Tourism is not only about hospitals or clinics. It is about people. I believe Filipinos are the best in terms of providing that personal and effective health care. Medical Tourism is also providing the best experience for the patient and his or her family,” he said. For him, medical tourism serves as a catalyst to bring in more tourists to Quezon City.

The summit showcased some of the partner organizations that QC has partnered with such as the Korean Tourism Organization, St. Luke’s Medical Center, the Philippine Medical Tourism Inc., and the DOT.

QC Medical Tourism Landscape

One of the top players in QC’s medical tourism arm is St. Luke’s Medical Center, which, along with the QC local government, was certified by Germany-based accrediting organization Temos (Trust. Effective Medicine. Optimized Services), making St. Luke’s the first in the Philippines to have been awarded certificates for Excellence in Medical Tourism and Quality in International Patient Care. St. Luke’s hospitals are two of only 10 hospitals worldwide recognized as prime medical tourism destinations.

Temos certifies and accredits hospitals and primary care facilities worldwide based on adherence to international Quality Management Systems standards and compliance with its stringent and comprehensive criteria.

As one of the top healthcare providers in the country, St. Luke’s is well-equipped with the diagnostic needs of various conditions, not to mention, offering state-of-the-art facilities for the most discerning patients.

Also in QC, various players in the beauty industry have also started to become strong contenders in the medical tourism market. Among top beauty clinics, SvelT’i holds the distinction of providing a medical approach to their client’s aesthetic needs.

It is a state-of-the-art aesthetic clinic that offers exclusive and personalized treatments that specifically targets what your body and skin needs to be beautiful and healthy. The center uses the latest skin and body toning equipment along with some prized beauty products to achieve the body and complexion their clients want.

“Our clinic is different because we do personalized service. We customize treatments depending on your goal and what you really need. Not only that, our clinical specialists and all our staff, especially those who touch your skin, are all registered nurses that are highly skilled and trained in skin and body care. We can assure customers their privacy and we recommend what’s best for them. Our top priority is that they remain healthy,” said Dr. Lalaine Salazar, SvelT’i medical director.

Aside from the hospitals and clinics, included in QC’s medical tourism route are restaurants known for serving vegetarian or healthy dishes like Hillside Cafe and Juice Bar in Mother Ignacia Street, which serves healthy vegetarian dishes, as well as fruit and vegetable smoothies.

The local government of QC also promotes public places like the Quezon City Wellness Center as part of their general masterplan to promote the local government as one of Asia’s top medical tourism capitals.

The wellness center not only has a jogger’s trail, but also public equipment for body building and exercises. The area also holds regular fitness activities such as yoga and Zumba, and is a famous place for the city government’s fitness events.

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