Asia’s burgeoning medical tourism industry is estimated by some to be worth more than US$4 billion by 2012. According to Abacus International, the lure of low-cost, high quality healthcare in Asia is estimated to be attracting more than 1.3 million tourists a year to the key locations – Thailand, Singapore, India, and Malaysia. Travel experts from these countries launched the International Medical Travel Association (IMTA) which seeks to represent the interests of medical travellers and the medical travel industry including healthcare providers and medical travel facilitators. The association currently has 26 registered members from across the world.
“The medical traveller is first and foremost a patient and deserves to be treated and respected as one. The mission of the IMTA is to bring together the healthcare and travel industries as stakeholders in medical travel, and to build an economically sustainable, excellent and ethical medical travel industry. IMTA intends to protect the integrity of the care provider-patient relationship, to ultimately and most importantly protect the interests of the travelling patient.” said Dr Steven Tucker, President of the IMTA and Medical Director of the West Clinic Excellence Cancer Centre, Singapore.
The call for such an association was made at the Pacific Asia Travel Association conference held last year, during which industry speakers expressed concern that, with the enthusiastic boom of medical travellers across the world, there was a disturbing trend of viewing such travel as simply an extension of the tourism industry. Patients were choosing their doctors and hospitals from websites without the advice of their own doctors, travelling without adequate preparations and support and some are already paying the price of botched surgeries and other mishaps.
Dr Jason CH Yap, Director (Healthcare Services) of the Singapore Tourism Board, suggested then that an international association for medical travel would assist players to network, form new business relationships, share best practices, set standards and eventually accredit and self-regulate.
That suggestion received enthusiastic support from many players in the medical travel industry from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India and other countries, so the Singapore Tourism Board, led by Dr Yap, took the lead to facilitate the registration and soft-launch of the International Medical Travel Association at the International Medical Travel Conference held in Singapore in December last year. The members signed up at that time worked together to formulate its mission, vision and other foundations, and now come together to formally launch the organisation.