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Medical tourism arouses concern in China

By Xuyang Jingjing (Global Times)

09:06, April 19, 2013

(file photo)

At the Boao Forum for Asia earlier this month, Hainan Province published a plan to build a special zone for medical tourism, the first in the country. In one fell swoop, China's tropical island province is attempting to attract overseas medical institutions as well as patients.

At about the same time, it was reported that in 2012, China topped the US to become the first source of medical tourists going to South Korea, accounting for 63 percent of all medical tourists in the country.

But while neighboring countries like India, Thailand and South Korea have long had a head start in the global medical tourism market attracting many Chinese to their shores, China's medical tourism industry at home is in its infancy. Government support, strategy and infrastructure building will all be necessary if China wants to compete in this ever-growing market.

Liu Tingfang, a professor at the Institute for Hospital Management of Tsinghua University, has been pushing to develop medical tourism for over a decade. Back in 1996, while running a hospital in Hainan, Liu brought up the idea as a way to revive the hospital, which was going through a rough patch. But the hospital didn't have enough resources to develop this new commercial arm.

After years of lobbying by Liu and other like-minded people, the provincial government began including medical tourism into its five-year plans in the late 1990s, but nothing has materialized.

It was not until China announced plans to develop Hainan as an International Tourism Island in 2010 that the idea of medical tourism finally got some real attention. The Boao Forum for Asia 2013 featured a Health and Tourism Roundtable oriented around the potential for medical tourism and the International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone in Hainan Province.

Many medical professionals believe that China can be competitive globally, given its advantageous healthcare prices. Heart surgeries cost around one tenth of US prices while hip or knee replacements in Shanghai are more than 70 percent cheaper than in the US.

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