By Liu Sheng in Shanghai
Shanghai is expected to attract 50,000 to 100,000 foreign patients in the next three years, each spending an average of $10,000 to $15,000 per trip, a medical tourism expert said on Tuesday.
Medical tourism refers to travel by patients to other countries for surgery or anti-aging procedures at more affordable prices. The market is estimated to be worth $100 billion worldwide.
Shanghai will promote medical tourism this year by increasing overseas marketing, according to a press release issued Monday by a panel discussion attended by the city's lawmakers.
Though the municipal government has made marine tourism such as yacht or cruise trips a top priority for the city, Shanghai has already taken a lead in promoting medical tourism, boasting a Medical Tourism Products and Promotion Platform, which is jointly supported by five municipal bureaus.
"We offer a platform between patients and Shanghai hospitals," Dr Yang Jian, the founder and CEO of China Medical Tourism Company, which runs the platform, told the Global Times.
"Hospitals only take charge of the surgery, and we are responsible for the pre- and after-sales service on this platform, including the whole itinerary planning."
Asian countries are the world's main medical tourism destinations, especially Thailand, India, Singapore, South Korea, and Malaysia, receiving nearly 6 million medical tourists from North America, Japan and the Middle East each year.
Fierce competition in the market means Shanghai will focus on its specialties, namely gamma knife therapy, traditional Chinese medicine and stem cell technology. Every year, more than 300 Argentineans come to Shanghai for gamma knife surgery, which is banned in some countries.
"We conduct nearly 30 consultations every month, and 10 percent of them end up making the trip," Yang said.
However, some Shanghai citizens have expressed concerns over the surge in foreign patient numbers. "I plan to have eye laser surgery soon, and the flood of patients from outside Shanghai has already made the hospital crowded," said one resident surnamed Cui.
China's public hospitals are allowed to use up to 10 percent of their medical resources for special services, including costly surgical operations that are paid for privately, Yang said. The other 90 percent are for basic services for locals.
"Many hospitals still don't use the full 10 percent," said Yang.
Medical tourism will also help create jobs, bring in foreign cash flow, and improve medical services. "We aim to turn Shanghai into Asia's leading medical hub and a world-class destination for advanced patient care," Yang added.