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China’s outbound medical tourism

Chinese tourists spent $215 billion overseas last year - $10 billion that went towards overseas medical tourism alone. China is on the rise to become one of the world’s largest outbound medical tourism markets, and this trend for future Chinese demand is set to drive the global market for medical tourism up to $678.5 billion by 2017 – an impressive 54.7% growth from the $438.6 billion charted in 2015.



Chinese residents, spurred by rising income and growing awareness are increasingly demanding better quality private healthcare, a key factor underpinning Boston Consulting Group’s forecast that private health insurance spending in China will grow to RMB 1.1 trillion in 2020 from last year’s RMB 241 billion.



China’s population is ageing fast, which means more and more Chinese are discovering serious health problems that comes along with old age. Considering there will be more than 250 million urban households that are classed as middle class by 2020 this will further fuel the demand of foreign medical care.



While China’s super wealthy HNWI favour the US or Europe for medical holidays, China’s middle-class prefer more affordable treatment options in South Korea, Singapore, or Thailand.



We review 8 booming medical tourism destinations that are set to grow in the coming years:



United States

With four hospitals ranking in the top ten facilities in the world, combined with extensive travel links between China and US cities, and recent visa policy changes to quicken visa application processes, it’s no surprise why the US dominates as one of the most popular destinations for Chinese seeking medical treatment abroad.



At just a mere 2-3 hours away by plane and offering increasingly liberalised visas for Chinese visitors, Japan is a highly-accessible and popular medical tourism destination for Chinese, especially for standard health checks. Japan invests heavily in its health system, hence its health system is not only one of the world’s best equipped and most cost-effective, but also one of the most fastidious and reliable ones. This makes Japan highly attractive to Chinese patients – many who are jaded with China’s tenuous medical offerings – which explains the 310,00 Chinese medical tourists expected to visit Japan by 2020.



Boasting first-rate medical facilities Germany is ranked as the fifth-best medical system in the world by the US-based Commonwealth Foundation. Germany is also home to the second-best medical facilities in the world, as voted by Medical Tourism Index, and this largely due to the fact that the German government is the second-largest investor in healthcare among the countries in the OECD.


United Kingdom

Ranked top out of 11 of the world’s wealthiest countries in a study by the US-based Commonwealth Foundation, the UK healthcare system is a huge draw for Chinese medical tourists, particularly for those in search for liver transplants. Besides that, its quality of care, efficiency, and low cost at the point of service are also other factors attracting Chinese medical tourists to the UK – now even more so with the pound’s depreciation post-Brexit.



Proximity, cultural and language similarities, as well as great food make Singapore a popular option for Chinese medical tourists. Singapore’s excellent facilities are made even more compelling by Singapore’s move to relax visa requirements for Chinese travellers - 9,000 Chinese medical tourists ventured to the Lion City in 2015 for treatment.



Excellent and fast-growing range of medical facilities have rendered Thailand as one of the biggest medical tourism markets in the world, attracting an astonishing 2.81 million overseas patients in 2015. A big reason can be attributed to the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, which not only offers a range of premier and VIP suites and 24-hour hotline service, but even provides an embassy contact service, a visa application assistance service, reception service, and airport transfer service, making it a luxury medical experience. Having received approximately 7,500 Chinese customers in the past year, Bumrungrad Hospital added a ward staffed by Chinese speakers, adding to a customer base that has been growing at approximately 25% per year.


South Korea

A favourite for Chinese medical tourists seeking cosmetic surgery, South Korea’s medical tourism drive, including specialised medical visas for foreign patients, saw 56,000 Chinese medical tourists visits in 2014. Last year, that number surged to 179,000 Chinese patients, who spent $1 billion on hospital fees, accommodation, and travel in South Korea, making Chinese the largest group of foreign patients in South Korea.



Low cost, increasingly accessibility, and with an expanding range of private hospital chains like Fortis, Appollo, and Max, India is currently ranked as the top country in the world by Medical Tourism Index This is especially so for those seeking treatment for diseases, such as Hepatitis C and malaria.



Sources: Caixin, Boston Consulting Group.





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