by Sean O’Reilly and Carol Lamb
A “Medical Vacation” is a fantastic way to renew oneself in mind and body. When the body is relaxed and the mind is at ease, the quality of healing can be phenomenal. If you are one of those contemplating surgery in the near future, or know of someone who is at the crossroads of a medical decision, then you may want to investigate a “Medical Vacation”. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages when you consider the cost, the service and the location.

Ten years ago, according to the authors of a new book, Hospitality 2010: The Future of Hospitality and Travel by DeMicco, Cetron and Davies, medical tourism was barely noticeable. This changed in 1997 when Thailand started its medical tourism business as a way of bolstering a sagging economy. The Bumrungrad Medical Center in Bangkok, for example, sees 850,000 overseas patients annually and is at the cutting edge of medical tourism. Bumunrungrad comes complete with Starbucks, McDonald’s and twenty-four hour personal service. Additionally, more than 250,000 patients a year visit Singapore—nearly half of them from the Middle East. This number dramatically increases when you add in the high quality medical services available, just to the north, in Malaysia.

In 2006, it is estimated that nearly a half million patients will visit India for medical care. The authors indicate that India expects medical tourism will bring in approximately 2.2 billion dollars per year by 2012. For those of you shuddering at the thought of undergoing an advanced medical procedure in a foreign country, DeMicco, Cetron and Davies note that India’s death rate among patients undergoing surgery is only half that of most major hospitals in the United States. Additionally, many foreign hospitals provide hotel-like amenities, include personal assistants for post-hospital recovery and sometimes add airfare incentives.

Medical costs for surgery in the United States are clearly beginning to drive the business of surgery overseas. Cost savings range from twenty five to eighty percent less for many procedures. When you take into account that there are approximately 43 million people without health coverage and 120 million without dental coverage in the United States alone, then the economic pull of obtaining low cost medical service with a vacation thrown in becomes obvious. The long waiting periods for surgery in countries that practice socialized medicine such as Canada and England also add to the momentum of a burgeoning world wide medical business.

If you were to price a range of surgeries here in the United States, you might suddenly have the urge to call your insurance agent to go over your policy. Some patients have even resorted to living with their conditions rather than depleting family savings or dragging themselves through bankruptcy court. The stress of contemplating the devastatingly high cost of heart surgery, for example, which may run as high as several hundred thousand dollars, can be overwhelming for the uninsured or the underinsured. On the other hand, if you are someone who wants to look and feel your best and opt for elective surgery, then there is also the overseas option to consider. For considerably less than the amount that is spent on cosmetic or remedial surgery in the U.S., the venturesome patient can enjoy a renewed body and have a great vacation at the same time in Argentina, Dubai, Costa Rica, Cuba, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa or Thailand.

The latest entrant to the list of countries providing medical alternatives, Malaysia is focused on providing a good value for the patient who comes prepared to take advantage of the high quality and reasonable price of health care. Elective surgery like rhinoplasty (a nose job) and liposuction cost about twenty five percent less in Malaysia than in the U.S. Heart surgery for the uninsured or underinsured who might otherwise have to dip into life savings costs only a fraction of what it costs in the U.S. Some heart procedures are as low as 7,000 dollars as opposed to 50,000 to 125,000 dollars. Those savings can easily translate, during a surgical recovery period, into airfare, gourmet meals and a nice hotel at the beach for a month with a lot of spending money left over for those willing to step outside of their comfort zones.

As with all medical issues, you should talk to your personal physician before engaging medical services abroad. But with a little research and care, you will more than likely thank yourself for taking your medical concerns overseas. Many of the doctors performing these surgeries have been trained in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Local hospitals are conversant with the latest techniques and state-of-the-art medical technology.

Let’s take Malaysia as an example. According to Malaysian Tourism, “Medical expertise in Malaysia ranks among the best in the world and most private hospitals in the country have internationally recognized quality standards. These include the MS ISO9002 or accreditation by the Malaysian Medical Society for Quality of Health (MSQH). All private medical centers must be approved and licensed by the Ministry of Health.”

The Malaysian economy is one of the strongest in Southeast Asia with growth rates in the range of ten percent a year. Due to twenty-two years of visionary leadership under former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed, Malaysia has been able to take advantage of its strategic position in the heart of the Southeast Asia Triangle. Under the new leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia’s economic goal to become a fully developed country by 2020 is being realized. If the pace of present development continues, they will achieve their goal well in advance of that date.

Malaysia is also a melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other people of differing backgrounds and religious viewpoints live together in peace and relative harmony. A progressive Muslim country, Malaysia is tolerant of other religions. You will encounter very little of the sort of religious truculence that one associates with some Islamic nations. Everyone is too busy earning a living to be engaged in social mischief. Many Malaysians have a terrific sense of humor and are not above mocking their own politicians and other national figures. They also have a fascination with establishing whacky world records, such as the world’s largest pizza, most days spent in a box with 6,069 scorpions and the singular achievement of building one of the world’s tallest twin towers (the Petronas Twin Towers). All of this translates into a culture that is both sure of itself and gracious.

Here comes the best part: Malaysia is blessed with an abundance of good beaches. Hotels and resorts can be found up and down the coastline in frequently visited areas or secluded lagoons. Most of them boast of luxurious spas and rejuvenating massages. What a wonderful way to ease your mind and relax your body. The climate in Malaysia is warm year round and so are its people, who will go out of their way to make sure your experience in Malaysia is unforgettable. With excellent hotels, a superb highway system and streets that are safe and well policed, a Medical Vacation can be just what the doctor ordered. What are you waiting for? Let the healing begin.

For more information on Malaysia:

Major Hospitals and services in the capital, Kuala Lumpur

Information from

Kuala Lumpur Gleneagles Intan Medical Centre
282-286 Jalan Ampang
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: 603-4257 1300
Fax: 603-4257 9233 / 2933
Website: No. of beds: 330

Facilities & Services:
Anesthesiology, Bone Densitometry, Cancer Treatment, Cardiology, Cardiac Catheterization and Angiography, Cardiothoracic Surgery, CT Scanning, Dermatology, Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery, Endoscopy, Executive Health Screening Program, Fluoroscopy, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, General and Vascular Surgery, Haemodialysis, Intensive Care, Infertility Management, Interventional Radiology, Internal Medicine, MRI, Mammography, Microsurgery, Nephrology and Urology, Neurology and Neurosurgery, O&G, Occupational and Preventive, Oral Maxilla Facial and Craniofacial Surgery, Ophthalmology and Eye Surgery, Orthodontics, Orthopedics, ENT, Pediatrics and Pediatric Surgery, Radio diagnosis, Rehabilitation, Speech Therapy

Islamic Medical Centre (PUSRAWI)
132-138 Wisma Baitulmal Wilayah
Jalan Ipoh
51200 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: 603-4041 4922
Fax: 603-4041 4884
Website: No. of beds: 111

Facilities & Services:
Anesthesiology, Cardiology, Cardiac Catheterization and Angiography, Cardiothoracic Surgery, CT Scanning, Dermatology, Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery, Endoscopy, Executive Health Screening Program, General and Vascular Surgery, Haemodialysis, Intensive Care, Interventional Radiology, Internal Medicine, Neurology and Neurosurgery, O&G, Orthopedics, Pediatrics and Pediatric Surgery, Physiotherapy, Radio diagnosis

National Heart Institute
145 Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: 603-2617 8200
Fax: 603-2698 2824
Website: No. of beds: 279

Facilities & Services:
Anesthesiology, Cardiology, Cardiac Catheterization and Angiography, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Executive Health Screening Program, High Dependency Unit / Rehabilitation, Intensive Care, Nuclear Medicine, Pediatrics, Physiotherapy, Transplants (Liver & Blood / Marrow)

Pantai Medical Centre
8 Jalan Bukit Pantai
59100 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: 603-2296 0888
Fax: 603-2282 1557

Getting There:

A typical roundtrip flight from New York to Kuala Lumpur will run approximately $1550.00 depending on the season and fare availability.

Sean O’Reilly is editor-at-large for Travelers’ Tales ( He is a former seminarian, stockbroker, and prison instructor with a degree in Psychology. A life-long devotee of good humor and all things sacred and profane, his recent editorial credits include: Travelers’ Tales China, The Best Travelers’ Tales 2006, Hyenas Laughed at Me and Now I Know Why, Travelers’ Tales American Southwest, Travelers’ Tales Greece, Travelers’ Tales Ireland, Travelers’ Tales Grand Canyon, Danger!, Pilgrimage, The Ultimate Journey, Testosterone Planet and Stories to Live By and 30 Days in the South Pacific. Widely traveled, Sean most recently completed a journey through the islands of the South Pacific and Malaysia. He lives in Virginia with his wife and six children.

Carol Lamb is President of Fantastic International (