Medical Tourism & Public Relations: More Than Meets the Eye

Jul 4 12:40 2017 Brand Inc Asia Print This Article

With medical tourism becoming increasingly competitive, governments and companies need to continue to strengthen their brand communications and publicity to increase their share of the expanding market.

According to 2015 Asia-Pacific Medical Tourism Outlook published by Frost and Sullivan,Guest Posting medical tourism in the Asia Pacific region recorded a US $9.62 billion revenue. The industry is forecast to grow 16.3 percent year-on-year by 2019 [1].

The double-digit growth has been speculated to be mainly contributed by emerging markets such as Malaysia and South Korea on top of established ones like Singapore, India and Thailand which already accounted for more than 75% of the worldwide medical tourist visits in 2015 [2]. According to a statement released by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council in early 2017, the Malaysian medical tourism industry has been experiencing a significant compound annual growth of 30 percent [3].

Medical Tourism Index 2016 published by the International Healthcare Research Center reported that Singapore came fourth among 41 medical tourism destinations while ranked third in terms of environment of the destination, surpassing other popular destinations on the list [4].

Medical Tourism Index 2016 , Source: International Healthcare Research Center.

The assessment and ranking criteria of the Medical Tourism Index are based on the destination’s performance in three different aspects: destination environment, medical tourism industry and the quality of facilities and services.

Medical Tourism Index Conceptual Model, Source: MTI

While Singapore still enjoys its long-standing status as the top preferred destination for patient experience and complex procedures, it has been ranked least favourably in terms of costs among other Asian countries as its neighbouring competitors increased their capabilities to offer quality care at much more competitive prices [5].

With the regional market becoming increasingly competitive, on top of finding a competitive advantage in their offerings, healthcare providers and governments continue to strengthen their branding and communications to increase if not retain their share of the market. However, medical and pharmaceutical public relations is usually easier said than done. Here’s why:

Rules and Regulations

Firstly, communications regarding pharmaceuticals and medicine are under the purview of government regulatory bodies and advisory boards. These regulatory standards differ by region and countries. A PR practitioner would need to be familiar with these protocols and restrictions before formulating or suggesting any campaign or solution to pharmaceutical clients.


  • Health Products (Advertisements of Therapeutic Products) Regulation
  • Medicine (Medical Advertisements) Regulation





  • Medical Council of India (MCI) Code of Ethics Regulations 2002
  • Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954



  • Rules of the Medical Council on the observance on Medical Ethics, B.E. 2526 (1983)
  • Drug Act, B.E. 2510 (1967)


While penalties vary with legal systems, one common repercussion for all offenders is the tarnished reputation of the company and the local authorities’ distrust of medical and pharmaceutical companies.

PRoTip: Going above and beyond the legal requirements to ensure ethical communications is how responsible practitioners protect the client’s and the agency’s reputation and working relationship.Offences under these laws could mean fines and imprisonment.

Technical Knowledge

To come up with the best suggestions, PR agencies would need a thorough understanding of the client, which often involves having to dig deep into medical jargons and the latest scientific researches. Working on medical PR without these is as irresponsible and as dangerous as leaving a toddler to wander on the highway. Unfortunately, most of the time, the information supplied by pharmaceutical and medical clients are drier and longer than the Sahara. Therefore, experience and familiarity are critical.

PRoTip: “Reading without understanding is like swallowing food without chewing. – Vikrant Parsai”. Don’t choke.

Being Ethically Creative

Even after understanding what to convey, the following concern is on working the how. This means converting the acquired knowledge into news angles that would captivate media outlets and the consumers. Information needs to be broken down into digestible portions and then weaved into a coherent story. This is where creativity comes in.

PRoTip: Fearmongering is one of the easiest ways to grab attention when it comes to health. However, it is unethical and should be avoided at all costs.

To set the record straight, the claim that PR is all about creativity is a myth. So is the claim that reading of research papers and academic journals end in college.

Experience in communications is simply insufficient to qualify a PR practitioner for work in medical PR. Abiding by legislations, understanding and ethically translating medical jargons and clinical research into news angles are part and parcel of medical and pharmaceutical PR. The skill is to turn these medical PR challenges to opportunities.

Lest there be any misconceptions, as with the list of other most stressful jobs, PR requires minds to be resilient and coffee to be strong. Proceed with caution.

To find out more about the Medical Tourism Index, click here.


[1] Gulf Report, 2015, “Medical tourism in Asia-Pacific set to cross $20bn by ’19”, Oct 31,

[2] Export, 2016, “Thailand Country Commercial Guide – Healthcare”, Aug 17,

[3] Channel News Asia, 2017, “Malaysia’s medical tourism set to achieve US$290m target revenue”, Feb 14,

[4] International Healthcare Research Center, 2016, “Medical Tourism Index 2016”,

[5] The Straits Times, 2017, “Singapore tops for medical tourism, but rivals catching up quickly”, Jun 6,

[6] Pacific Prime, 2016,”What’s happening to medical tourism in Singapore?”, Nov 25,

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About Article Author

Brand Inc Asia
Brand Inc Asia

Originally a one-person operation with an astute eye for detail, and driven by a passion for concise, effective communications, Brand Inc. has evolved into one of the leading boutique consumer lifestyle public relations (PR) firms in Singapore and Malaysia that specialises in public relations areas such as medical healthcare, hospitality, food & beverage (F&B) restaurants, consumer tech, events and fashion.

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