Alex Barrow is a writer for Lucire.
Alex Barrow flies to Malaysia to examine first-hand the phenomenon of medical tourism, and why the country is fast becoming the destination of choice
photographed by the author, with some supplied images
from issue 35 of Lucire
Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a hub of developing activity, and is in the travel spotlight with a globally competitive medical tourism industry. With skyscrapers reaching for the clouds, and the Petronas Towers elegantly protruding in their glass exterior wonder, as well as the hustle and bustle of the city life itself, there is no doubt why the “medical holiday” is gaining so much international attention.
When most think of Malaysia, they may think of the exquisite cuisine (there is no other way to describe it), the fusion of culture, or the impressive architecture, but the medical industry is fighting through as one of its increasingly important tourism industries. This is putting Malaysia on the map in its own right, and Malaysian medical centres are repeatedly awarded by various global health agencies for their outstanding standard of medical practice.
The Malaysia Health Travel Council (MHTC) is a professional body overseeing the high standard of medical care in Malaysia, and to promote it on a global scale. It is an agency run by the Malaysian Ministry of Health and governmentally funded, governing over 200 health care facilities, inclusive of dentistry, hospitals and wellness centres and demands nothing but the best for every client.
The attraction lies not only in the outstanding care, but in the more affordable pricing compared to other developed medical industries worldwide. As determined by the Malaysian Ministry of Health, each medical treatment has been reviewed and given a capped price. This ensures avoidance of overpriced, inaccessible treatment, as well as promoting high-quality medical care in a competitive market. Medical practices may charge fees lower than the cap to engage more competitively in this regulated market. Furthermore, national and international patients are charged at the same rates to encourage medical tourism: there is a “triple approach” of quality, accessibility and affordability.
In the last year, around one million people have travelled from all over the globe seeking medical health care in Malaysia. Medical tourists come largely from Australia, the US, Indonesia and China. Malaysia was awarded Medical Travel Destination of the Year by the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) at the Medical Travel Awards 2015, held in London. Not only is Malaysia highly respected, but the tourism sector is equally attractive with plenty of activities appropriate for a medical holiday. The country itself is pulsing with culture, scenery and attractions. The appeal of a medical holiday lies in the comfort of pampering and relaxation before and after procedures. Many medical centres cater to every need, including organizing five-star accommodation, transport to and from the clinics, as well as providing their clients with top-of-the-range treatment.
An example of the luxury accommodation available in Kuala Lumpur is the Parkroyal Serviced Suites, located in the heart of the thriving Golden Triangle. Luxury suites range from RM400 to RM1,600 (NZ$140–NZ$550) per night. Included in the most basic of suites is a king or twin beds, a large living area, a fully equipped kitchen and a spacious bathroom. The higher-priced, executive suite comes with separate bedrooms containing king- and queen-sized beds, a fully equipped kitchen, living area, executive desk area, a large bathroom, and an outstanding view of the iconic glass Petronas Towers. Furthermore, the hotel provides a rooftop swimming pool, an inside pool, a well equipped gym area, and a mezzanine entertainment area equipped with activities for both adults’ and children’s enjoyment. Personalized laundry may be ordered, as well as parking and transport facilities, and a business centre is available for professionals. Dining is available at breakfast time for customers, and offers a widespread of food ranging from traditional Malaysian cuisine to pastries and cooked goods, to fresh fruit and continental breakfasts.
The luxury label is by no means overstated. The rooms themselves are fully equipped for a perfectly comfortable stay that caters to every need. After medical treatment, it is the kind of homely environment a patient would desire. There is plenty of room to get around without feeling too cramped, and the entertainment facilities at the hotel make for an all-round pleasant experience.
A visit to the Prince Court Medical Centre (PCMC) showed the high standard of their approach to global health care through the numerous accolades hanging in the entrance way, despite having only opened in 2007. Not only was PCMC awarded this year by the IMTJ as a highly commended hospital for excellence in customer service, but the top quality centre also won the 2013 Medical Travel Quality Alliance award for being the world’s best hospital for medical tourists. PCMC accommodates tourists with an international business lounge at their disposal, taking into account pressing needs of some tourists who are unexpectedly admitted to hospital. This includes staff taking care of insurance needs and travel rearrangements, as well as providing interpreters to make the patient’s stay as manageable as possible.
This hospital provides some of the best quality facilities and services in the world, ranging from a sophisticated burn centre, various surgical wards, a pædiatric centre, occupational health, an extensive rehabilitation centre, as well as plastic reconstructive surgery. Throughout our tour, we were constantly blown away by how advanced the medical care and facilities were. The hospital employs over 120 highly qualified specialists and doctors, each dedicated to their units and the individual needs of their patients.
One particularly popular option at pcmc is the Executive Health Screening. This involves a complete health screening dependent on one’s age group and associated needs. The screening takes up to four hours to complete and results are returned in the same day. It allows detection of any undiscovered medical concerns and allows action to be taken. Preventative action is at the heart of PCMC and is the priority, with financial plans being offered to patients who may need them.
The impressive plastic reconstructive centre at PCMC caters to virtually all æsthetic, cosmetic and plastic surgery needs. This centre has a 50 per cent international tourist rate, a large portion from Australia and the US. The three most popular procedures are breast augmentation, liposuction and facelift surgeries. Although there is a larger female clientèle, male-inclined procedures are becoming more common, according to PCMC senior executive Ghazlina Ghazali.
Depending on the procedure, patients can be in and out of the hospital within a day, potentially for breast augmentation, eye-lifting or widening, and small-scale liposuction procedures. Longer stays apply for more serious surgeries such as abdominal reconstruction or facelifts. With these procedures come longer healing periods, but the facilities make this a completely comfortable, reliable experience. The dedication of the doctors ensure high-quality results and periodic check-ups following procedures. The return rate is very low for PCMC plastic reconstructive patients, as the surgeons do a first-class job of surgeries with natural looking results.
Another option for æsthetic and cosmetic surgery is Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre. Not only does the centre cater to æsthetic enhancement and treatment, but they also have fully qualified dentistry professionals. There are three Beverly Wilshire centres throughout Malaysia, with the headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. At this centre alone, there are five æsthetic surgeons and two full-time plastic surgeons, some of whom have over 25 years’ experience. This year, Beverly Wilshire won the International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year at the IMTJ Medical Travel Awards. This accolade is further enhanced by clients such as celebrity Sarah Lian, the Malaysian actress and TV personality, who gave the centre a glowing review and is now a brand ambassador. As well as a high number of international clients, Beverly Wilshire has an impressive reputation with their work boasting natural appearances with little to no scarring following a major procedure.
The top major procedures include breast augmentation, facelifts, liposuction and tummy tucks, rhinoplasty, and various eye procedures; the doctors also regularly inject Botox and fillers. We were fortunate to observe fillers being put into the faces of two clients, one of which was my colleague’s. Depending on the assigned facial zone, a number of thin syringe needles inject the fillers into the face. These instantly smooth out deep lines and wrinkles to appear fuller and noticeably younger. Upon asking both patients the sensation they felt, both agreed that there was a slight pinch but the quick procedure was not by any means painful. Considering how needle insertions can be uncomfortable, these reviews indicate the professionalism and skill of the doctors carrying out the procedures.
I did not get any invasive procedures done, but opted for a light facial microdermabrasion. This procedure uses a spray of micro-crystals to remove the outermost layer of dead skin cells to make the skin appear healthier, younger, and rejuvenated. The sensation itself was comparable to an electric toothbrush rubbing over the skin, with jets of what felt like water washing into the pores to clean them. It was not uncomfortable at all: my skin was significantly softer and moister, and minor skin imperfections were visibly reduced. Though this sort of treatment was not something I’d considered before, I have recommended it to peers and I would look at getting it done again.
Not only did many of the Beverly Wilshire doctors and surgeons study medicine abroad, but they continue to do so to update research and techniques, to ensure the centre remains one of the best.
Beverly Wilshire’s international client base makes up around 50 per cent of the patient list, too. A large portion of that percentage comes from Australia and New Zealand, with the latter developing increasing interest the more they hear about the high standard of medical practice.
Common procedures can cost significant amounts of money when it comes to dental work, prices that are often unaffordable for many. Due to these high prices, patients often choose not to get work done or to have the damaged tooth removed. This can lead to harm being done to the gum, and can leave healthy teeth either side of the gap to be unstable without the support of the missing tooth. Dental hygiene is important to maintain; therefore, major procedures are imperative, despite cost. Malaysian dental experts charge significantly lower prices compared to New Zealanders for veneers, orthodontics, crowns and implants. Lower-priced veneers and crowns in New Zealand can cost c. NZ$1,400, whereas at Dentalpro in Kuala Lumpur, for example, the same procedure can be done for up to NZ$500. The price difference is staggering considering the same work is being done.
Dentalpro is one of the leading dental centres in Malaysia and has been repeatedly awarded for their high quality of work. Dr Sayed, Dentalpro’s senior resident dental surgeon and clinical director, has had over 24 years of experience in his field, and now works closely in cosmetic and conventional dentistry. Although Dentalpro was only established in 2003, the team has developed a strong international reputation and now has patients from 150 different countries. With MHTC accreditation, this is likely to grow.
The team at Dentalpro understands the anxieties that can occur with dental treatment and does everything it can to soothe these concerns. Although this may seem a less significant part of the procedure, it is surprising how much trust comes into the equation. A colleague of mine got dental work done at this centre and said she felt entirely comfortable and confident in the hands of Dr Sayed. The team at Dentalpro makes sure patients are comfortable and the setting itself reflects that: the waiting area has a soothing effect with a green, blooming garden and comfortable furniture to make patients feel at home. I found this to be surprisingly effective and it completely downplayed the stereotype of a dental surgery.
A second MHTC-accredited centre, Imperial Dental Specialist Centre (IDSC), takes an approach that constantly challenges the way the staff understand dentistry. With an auditorium on the third floor of the centre, the staff at IDSC attend seminars once a week to update knowledge, attend presentations, and to present their own research when applicable. This constant learning and updating shows why IDSC is one of the leading dental centres in Kuala Lumpur.
Alongside the impressive update of information and research, idsc also maintains cutting-edge technology and facilities, inclusive of top-of-the-range dental chairs. I had a cleaning and scaling done during my visit to this centre, and had a veneer put on my chipped front tooth. Not only was my dental surgeon, Datin Dr Alice Wong, a very friendly woman, but I had no idea that she had actually done the veneer until she gave me the mirror! The entire procedure was very quick and painless, and Dr Wong had attached a perfect, natural looking veneer. Work such as this reflects the high standard of excellence held at IDSC, and shows virtue in constant learning and research.
With international clients looking towards Malaysia for competitive pricing, dental centres like idsc are one step ahead with agents located around the world to ease preparations, including one in Australia called Intercontinental Dental Services. Quotes and appointments can be organized through agencies such as this, and set up in time for your arrival in Malaysia.
Pristine Dental Centre, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, has innovative technology which sets them apart from other dental centres. With five centres located around Malaysia, Pristine spreads their abilities between Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. This centre not only does all dental procedures, they also use æsthetic dentistry design to make patients’ teeth completely individual. Micro tooth artist Nasser Shademan works alongside Dr Suresh Nair to create a tooth, or set of teeth, that is designed to suit the individual patient’s age, facial structure, and personal preference. Shademan says, ‘The most important feature of the concept is that the dentist and dental technologist work side by side through every stage of the process, something that is rarely found in most practices.’ Shademan not only completes the design and structuring of the tooth with intensive skill, he has the creative ability to give individual teeth microscopic pictures such as a face, a star sign, or virtually any artistic image the patient may choose.
Shademan also designs teeth that are natural-looking, complete with the grooves and colourings of patients’ regular teeth. Dr Nair, as the dental surgeon counterpart, is highly skilled in dental procedures and cosmetic dentistry, and has a passion for patient satisfaction. ‘We customize the smile according to patients’ own features and character needs. If a patient shows us a photo of a smile that they desire, we note the factors that attracted the patient to that smile, dissect its essence and reproduce the same effect on him or her,’ he says. To ensure the patient is completely satisfied with their new smile, a prototype is moulded with a type of dough so the patient can see what is going to be done, and make alterations if need be.
As an MHTC-approved company, international patients are common at Pristine Dental Centre. With a large number coming from Australia, mainly for tooth implants, New Zealanders are also catching on, causing a fast growth in Malaysia’s Oceania medical tourists. Extra precautions are taken to ensure an excellent result, considering the cost of having to return to Malaysia.
The final centre we visited was Kuala Lumpur International Dental Centre (KLIDC). Similarly to Dentalpro, the interior design is fashioned to reflect serenity and calm. KLIDC has seven years of established business, with a team of 17 dental specialists.
What sets this centre apart is the futuristic technology. The Winbond Dental Laboratory is just one example of this technology, the first of its kind in Malaysia. This machine takes the material used to make a tooth, such as porcelain or zirconia, and carves out an exact replica of the tooth data put into the system. Not only is the final product completed within 20 minutes, but the manufactured tooth is more durable and of higher quality than one produced through the traditional practice of making a mould.
The second significant quarter of the practice was the orthodontics’ centre. Dr Shia Sheau Soon, the consultant orthodontist, was highly passionate about his speciality and where the future leads. Leaning away from traditional metal braces, Dr Soon introduced us to Invisalign, a clear plate-like mouth piece that is removable for eating. The plate has the same effect as metal braces do, without the discomfort of the latter. This centre’s obvious passion for innovation and leadership indicates why they too are supported by MHTC.
Makeover Vacations is an agent which works directly with Tourism Malaysia and MHTC to aid international tourists in health facilitation. Having built extensive alliances with MHTC-approved practices all through Malaysia, Makeover Vacations is well equipped to find the perfect practice for each client’s needs and personal preferences. Furthermore, they organize transport, accommodation and travel agents to smooth the travel process as much as possible.
After having experienced facial care at Beverly Wilshire and dental work at Imperial Dental Specialist Centre, and meeting the professionals from several other medical and dental practices, I can say that these professionals go beyond my recommendation. Not only were they passionate about their careers, but they are dedicated to their patients and their all-round customer satisfaction.
Additionally, the country is a holiday destination in its own right. This is ideal for those who perhaps want to travel abroad to get work done, while the family can enjoy attractions around Kuala Lumpur in particular. Walks around idolized landmarks such as the Batu Caves, the trip up the Petronas Towers, the bustling markets, or even the traditional Malaysian cuisine itself mark a whole other world to get lost in. The country is very affordable for travellers, in a wider sense than medical care, which makes it the ultimate holiday destination. Having been my first trip to Malaysia I will, without doubt, be back to experience more of this enticing country, its culture, and the beautiful people we met. •
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