Global Healthcare: A Public-Private Partnership?

Most people accept the premise that at some level, government must be involved in the regulation and provision of healthcare. However, proponents such as Professor Herzlinger of Harvard Business School, argue that an entirely closed healthcare system stymies efficiency and that corrective reform must come from a market driven, consumer oriented approach (See Herzlinger's 'Consumer-Driven Health Care' [Jossey Bass, 2004] for more on this). In essence, such advocates argue that national healthcare systems must be fully de-regulated and move to a true public-private model.

At HuliHealth, as we have gotten back to our desks and back up to speed after our Christmas breaks, reflecting on two recent pieces of government legislation have helped reinforce our belief that the successful development of a country's medical travel market requires a true public-private partnership between government, health care providers and third party intermediaries.

First up was the news that preparations for the implementation of the EU Directive for Cross Border Healthcare continue with the setup of the eHealth network to align efforts across Europe. With the Directive's implementation deadline of the directive not until October 2013, Europe is still some way away from the vision of a common healthcare market but encouraging progress continues to be made.

Second, hopping over to HuliHealth's second home in Asia, as of January 1st, the Taiwanese government formally started granting so called 'medical visas' for Chinese nationals to travel to Taiwan for health-check and cosmetic surgery procedures. Given diplomatic relations between China and Taiwan, or indeed the lack thereof, medical visas are a significant step in lowering the barriers for China's emerging middle class to travel to Taiwan, rather than say neighboring Korea or Japan, to meet their medical needs.

These efforts show increasing initiative by governments to drive the development of the medical travel market. Such thinking is predicated on the rapid emergence of the medical travel markets in Singapore, Thailand or Korea that have been almost wholly led by government policy. These cases have been instructive in the need for governments to take the critical first step in catalyzing market development: to corral hospitals to work together under the same umbrella, to co-ordinate the country's branding and marketing overseas, or to work with immigration authorities and national carriers to ease passage for those medical travelers that it hopes to attract.

Equally however, experience shows that governments cannot do it alone: private institutions also have their part to play. Whether it is the growth of healthcare delivery facilities such as the Parkway group in Singapore or Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, or the development of information and appointment booking platforms such as ourselves, private institutions are necessary to support growth.

Where medical travel markets have truly flourished however, are where genuine complementary partnerships exist between the public and private sectors, of a shared vision and co-ordinated execution. Ironically, it is the governments that must first intervene to help establish the platform from which the market develops. As we look to 2012 and the beginning of the Lunar Year, it is heartwarming to see governments in Europe and Asia start to do this.

by David Chao