EXPORTING the Gold Coast’s medical expertise could prove a valuable niche for the city’s ailing tourism industry.
MEDICAL tourism is estimated to be worth more than $40 billion globally, but it is a market that is relatively untapped by the Australian medical and tourism industries.
The Gold Coast Medical Tourism Association (GCMTA) was formed just six months ago and it has already started spruiking the city at international health conferences.
Following success at Chicago’s World Medical Tourism Congress in October last year, the association recently sent a five-member delegation to Dubai’s Arab Health 2012 conference, the second-largest medical meeting in the world.
GCMTA chair Peter Doggett (pictured) says the Gold Coast has become a popular destination for people from the Middle East.
“Australia has a very good international reputation for medical science and we want to use that to attract people to come and get care here, then in their recuperation they will perhaps spend some time in the area and put money into the tourism industry,” he says.
Given the infancy of the initiative, Doggett says there is little evidence of how much money the industry brings to the Gold Coast.
“This is a pretty new space, we are building a niche market here and the evidence is not there yet. Getting the data is not an easy task and we are in very early days,” he says.
“We’re starting small and we want to build the medical side as something to include in your visit, but it will take a little time to get that message out there.”
To launch, the group is targeting bariatric patients and those wanting cosmetic or orthopaedic surgery.
GCMTA board member and Weightloss Solutions Australia practice manager Felicity Layani, says it’s estimated the Middle East provides some 20 per cent of the world’s medical tourism patients.
“The key message for UAE patients is that the Gold Coast is a safe, clean, affordable and welcoming environment offering the very best medical care and attention,” says Layani.
“Specialist Gold Coast medical procedures include everything from weight loss surgery to orthopaedic, ophthalmological, cardiac, and cosmetic procedures, along with comprehensive health checks for those wanting to get a quick and easy assessment of their health status.”
John Flynn Private Hospital at Tugun was purpose-built next to the Gold Coast Airport in the early 1990s for medical tourism. It and Pindara Hospital at Ashmore are already used by foreign visitors.
Doggett looks to the international education industry in the city as an example of what medical tourism could become.
“It is a niche market and I would put it on a similar parallel to the education market on the Gold Coast. If we can get similar visitors as the education sector then we are well on our way,” he says.
He points out that beds are not being taken from Australian patients to supply to international tourists.
“We are not taking beds from the normal public allocation, what we are talking about is referred patients from doctors or insurance companies utilising fee-paying private hospitals. It is something concurrent to the health system.”