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The Role of the Philippine College of Surgeons
in Medical Tourism

            When I joined the Philippine College of Surgeons in the mid-seventies, medical tourism, in its current form, was practically unheard of. Today, Medical Tourism is a trillion-dollar rapidly evolving industry in Asia and other parts of the world. It is a response solution to the overburdened and bureaucratic healthcare system among well-developed countries, like the United States, and especially in Canada and the European nations, where patients in need of surgery have to wait for months, where socialized medicine and red tapes endanger the safety and the lives of the patients. 

            Simply put, medical tourism today is quality, world-class, hustle-free, healthcare, in combination with a tropical mini-vacation, pampering the patient and the family, at a bargain package price, as little as about 1/4 or 1/5 of the cost of similar surgical procedure in the United States or in Europe. And I would like to emphasize the word QUALITY. 

            While some Asian countries are ahead of us in the game, I strongly believe that the Philippines can successfully compete in the world market for medical tourism, and even do better, because of our culture, rich natural resources, surgical skills, talent, compassion, our superior mastery of the English language as our second tongue, and our more westernized society. 

            While cost is important to the prospective foreign patients, the over-riding determinant factor in any successful medical tourism program is QUALITY.  

            It is rather unfortunate that there is a negative perception in the world about our medical education and medical competence. And this is contrary to the truth. Independent studies conducted in the United States in 1997, in 1998 and 2000, and endorsed by the American Medical Association confirmed “that international medical graduates did better than USMGs at all 3 Postgraduate levels. Another study stated “the test of time over the last 46 years as demonstrated by the IMG performance being at least equivalent to USMGs in the studies conducted, validated the competency of these international medical graduates”, described by the AMA as “the cornerstone of the US healthcare system.” 

            In their letters of protest against Disney/ABC regarding the racial slur against the Filipino physicians in the season premiere of Desperate Housewives, American Medical Association President Ronald M. Davis, MD, and American College of Surgeons President Gerald B. Healy, MD, FACS, reaffirmed their support and defense of the Filipino physicians, who in, in their words, “are equally qualified as their American peers, and to suggest otherwise is offensive, unfair and discriminatory.” 

            The recent racial slur is a symptom of this wrong perception. This is the more reason why our Medical Tourism program in the Philippines should be better organized, well-designed, better structured, with the Philippine College of Surgeons taking a lead role in its development and in constantly assuring quality care, with peer vigilance. 

            I personally and strongly feel that the Philippine College of Surgeons, as the pre-eminent leader and bastion of quality surgical care in the country, must take the lead, since medical tourism mostly involves the art and practice of surgery, anyway. It is not only an academic duty, but a moral and patriotic obligation of the Philippine College of surgeons to take such a leadership role to assure quality of care, protect the patients, and, also equally fundamental, to safeguard the integrity of the medical profession, and the image of the country as a whole. 

            If we are to be successful in this endeavor, and stand clearly superior to the other medical tourism hospitals in other Asian countries, we must have dedicated state-of-the-art medical centers, with infrastructure and cutting edge-technology, and medical/surgical equipment and sophisticated diagnostic machines, similar to those available in renowned medical centers in the United States, like the Mayo Clinic, Texas Heart Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, etc. 

            This is the concept we are exploring in Cebu, with the added feature of portability of healthcare insurance, like US Medicare, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, etc. This is a tall order, but we are working at it. As a matter of fact, Cebu Mayor Tom Osmena is so interested in our plan, he has offered a city lot for the project, which is spearheaded by the Cardiovascular Hospitals of America. This will certainly be more reassuring and more attractive to foreign patients, including Filipinos around the world, who might even be enticed to retire in the Philippines, if not visit the country more frequently. 

            It would be a great mistake, a loss of a giant opportunity to boost the economy of the country, if the Philippine government does not step into the global arena today and boldly take a piece of the pie in this trillion-dollar industry in medical tourism.  

            It would likewise be a mistake for the Philippine College of Surgeons to accept a lesser role and not take the lead in stimulating and goading the government and private sectors to establish an organized medical tourism program in the Philippines, and take the cudgel as the peer leader in setting the standard and assuring quality of care in such a program.  

            The Philippine College of Surgeons has no wiser, more prudent, and nobler option than to lead in this crucial wave of the future -- medical tourism – which, actually, is already here at our doorstep, and within our reach.

Presented by Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, at the Panel on Medical Tourism at the 63rd Clinical Congress of the Philippine College of Surgeons at the EDSA Shangri la, December 2-5, 2008, as Vice-President for Far East of the Cardiovascular Hospitals of America (, based in Wichita, Kansas.

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