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(eTN) - As an expat living and working in Southeast Asia, there is no shortage of countries that can provide excellent top-quality healthcare at affordable prices, particularly when comparing the costs with European or American hospitals.
Each country has its strengths and markets them aggressively. Thailand sells the softer side of healthcare combined with first-rate hospitals; Singapore trumps efficiency but is no longer a bargain; and Malaysia, well, that’s the quandary.
When I talk about Malaysia to my friends in Europe and the US, most of them are not even sure where it is. Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a world-class city, with a world-class infrastructure, and some of the best connectivity in the world. Just to arrive at hassle-free Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is a pleasure in itself. It is only after dispelling these myths and misperceptions that one can talk about Malaysia’s excellent state of healthcare and its world-class hospitals.
Perhaps Malaysia actually comes out on top in terms of healthcare and hospitals when compared to its neighbors. According to Thomas Jacob, President of the Association of Private Hospitals, Malaysia’s health care standards are world class. Many are Joint Commission International (JCI)-accredited and most carry the MSQH (Malaysian Society for Quality in Health) seal of approval. Thirty-five Malaysian hospitals throughout the country have been earmarked by the government to participate in health tourism.
From a purely practical standpoint, costs here are the lowest in the region. The level of English is the highest, emanating from many years of British rule. Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957. Political stability is the norm.
Malaysia’s Minister of Health Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is also supporting health tourism to boost the nation’s economic growth. In fact, the Ministry aims to attract more than 1.9 million visitors by 2020. This is up from a present level of 400,000.

Recently I sat down with the Grande Dame of Malaysian Healthcare, Datin Paduka Siti Sa’diah Sheik Bakir, Managing Director of KPJ Hospitals, the largest healthcare provider in the country with 22 hospitals and growing.
Her personality and youthful charm, as well as an endless reserve of energy, have made KPJ into what it is today, an award-winning group of hospitals. Just recently, Datin Paduka was awarded CEO of the year by American Express. She presides over the most successful stock on the Malaysian bourse and received the award for its 1 billion ringgit turnover.
I asked her what she thought Malaysia's main a,ttributes were when it comes to becoming a major health tourism destination and she responded with:

1. Affordable procedures, particularly if you are coming from a “western” country like the United States, where a triple heart bypass may be as high as US$100,000 and in Malaysia only US$25,000-35,000.
2. Modern facilities, where extensive investment has been made to ensure that all medical centers are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities.
3. Professional medical staff and doctors with internationally-recognized credentials of which a vast majority have studied in the United States or Great Britain and bring back a wealth of experience.
4. Short waiting times.
With more than 25 years of healthcare experience, KPJ Hospitals, under Datin Paduka’s leadership, have exceled in all arenas. According to Dr. Jalil Jidon, Principal Resident and Reconstructive Surgeon at KPJ’s flagship hospital, Ampang Puteri, “Plastic surgery here is safe and affordable, and you can have a relaxing vacation while recuperating.” Dr. Jalil receives patients from as far afield as Australia and the United Kingdom.
The Malaysian government has already recognized the huge potential of healthcare tourism with the creation of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) in 2009. The purpose of the council is to streamline service providers and industry players in both private and government sectors, thereby giving a huge boost to the industry.