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July 27, 2017

Medical Tourism - The Latest Travel Trend for the Wealthy Chinese

What is Medical Tourism?

This is the practice of patients travelling to a foreign country for the purpose of receiving medical treatment. Many wealthy Chinese citizens are now venturing abroad in order to gain access to the healthcare they need. In years gone by, medical tourism mainly consisted of western consumers seeking cosmetic procedures at a lower price. However in 2016, 500,000 Chinese citizens travelled for medical care regardless of the higher prices than at home.

What is Healthcase Like In China?

In theory, citizens of China should receive healthcare from birth right the way through to their dying days. 

In practice, the reality of the situation is that this is not the case. Citizens outnumber doctors and hospital beds, leaving many without access to healthcare. People form large queues at hospitals in top tier cities, where scalpers sell tickets to medical appointments much like ticket touts outside of concerts. Public health services in China are at breaking point.

Even when citizens do get to see a doctor, the quality of healthcare leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the cancer survival rate after 5 years is approximately 30% in China, whereas the figure stands are around 70% in the USA. In fact, in a study of 188 countries, the Chinese healthcare system placed 92nd out of 188, behind the likes of Mexico and Cuba. 

Outside of China, they are able to access a wider variety of medicines, plus specialist doctors and short wait times between appointments. Patients often travel to Macau and Hong Kong to buy foreign drugs, but many are now travelling further afield to Europe and the USA for treatment.

How Do Chinese Citizens Access Foreign Healthcare?

Medical Tourism companies are now popping up that help Chinese patients find doctors and arrange their travel. One such company is Beijing Saint Lucia Hospital Management Consulting Company. Sequoia Capital, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm has invested an undisclosed amount in the firm that is expanding rapidly. It's founder, Cai Qiang founded the company after his own daughter was born in Australia, and he was taken aback by the friendliness of the hospital staff. 

Highlighting the cultural differences between China and the west, Cai mentioned that his company had set up a "patient education" department to teach their clients the etiquette expected when being treated in a foreign country. This department was put in place after he was called by a hospital for an emergency meeting after one of his Chinese patients marched in to a doctors office unannounced with a query, even though the doctor was in the middle of a consultation with someone else! Cai blamed this on the fact that in China, there is "no concept of privacy". 

One success story in medical tourism is Zhao Xiaqing and her 5 year old daughter Kefei. Kefei was diagnosed with a brain tumor and travelled to Germany for proton therapy that is not available to children under 14 in China. Kefei responded very well to the treatment, and although her mother paid $140,000 for the treatment, she claimed that she would have been willing to spend twice the amount she paid as she was incredibly satisfied customer.

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