Taiwan opens the doors to mainland medical tourists

TAIWAN received a boost as a medical tourism hub last month when China began issuing medical visas for travellers heading to the island to avail of its healthcare facilities and services.

Typically, Taiwanese hospitals rely on travel consultants for visa processing and travel arrangements, as well as any add-on leisure activities, according to Sandy Chu, spokesperson for Lionmedi, Taiwan’s largest supplier of medical tourism-related services.

The medical visas are good for stays of up to 15 days, include the arrival day, a specified number of days for visits to the hospital and an additional three days for sightseeing.

“We are getting enquiries, both directly here in Taiwan and through our China offices,” said Chu, adding that most enquiries received were for non-invasive, low-risk procedures.

The new wave of Chinese coming to Taiwan for medical services are FITs – and could theoretically organise their own visits – but Chu believes most will continue to rely on Taiwan travel companies for assistance.

“First of all, (medical tourism in Taiwan) is new,” she explained, so few prospective travellers would know how to organise such a trip. “And secondly, the hospitals prefer to work with travel consultants rather than on their own.”

Medical tourism has been on the Taiwan government’s radar as early as 2008, according to Jane Chen, section chief, medical affairs, Department of Health (DOH), The Executive Yuan. Last year, 13,914 overseas visitors were served at Taiwanese medical facilities, compared to 5,157 in 2008, the first year the DOH began keeping records.

Unlike Singapore or Thailand, both of which have created single agencies for the management of medical tourism, Taiwan divides responsibilities among several bodies, with the DOH managing medical affairs, and promotion handled primarily by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Government Information Office.

An example of a collaborative promotion is a mobile application, available on iTunes since last month, providing a searchable directory of Taiwan healthcare providers serving medical tourists. The app is being promoted by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, which claims 2,000 downloads to date.

Reporting by Glenn Smith

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