What are Pantai’s new developments?

LEE: Pantai at the moment has three new developments. We are currently building a new hospital in Kota Kinabalu to cater to the population there. There is also one in the Iskandar region, Gleneagles Medini. There is one more in Manjung. Manjung is a medium sized hospital in Perak.

What is the capacity of these hospitals?

LEE: The hospital in Manjung has about 100 beds. The hospital in Kota Kinabalu has about 200 beds, and the hospital in Medini will have about 300 beds. Over time if the market grows we can always increase development and bed size.

What are the timelines for completion for these hospitals?

LEE: Our hospital in Manjung will be operational in late 2013. The hospitals in Medini and Kota Kinabalu will be opened in late 2014.

Why did Pantai choose these three locations?

LEE: We chose to build a hospital in Manjung because it is the fastest growing district in Malaysia. There is a lot of development in that region. There are new factories and a naval base in Manjung, but there is only one small private hospital there currently. In Kota Kinabalu, there is a population of over half a million people, but only three private hospitals. There is opportunity to cater to the healthcare needs of these people. We believe our hospital in Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu will do very well. Many Sabahans come to Singapore and Malaysia for their healthcare needs. The Gleneagles Medini in Iskandar region is close to Singapore and it is one of the fastest development regions in the country. We believe that by the time we finish the hospital the market will be ready. We will cater to both the Johorians and the Singaporeans.

What other expansion plans does Pantai have for the next 3-5 years?

LEE: This is a Malaysian operation so we will consider growth within Malaysia. Outside Malaysia, we have the Parkway Pantai group that is based in Singapore and is in charge of international operations. In Malaysia, we still have opportunities in places like Sarawak, Pahang, and even Kelantan. There is still room to expand. As Malaysia progresses, the smaller towns will become cities, and they will be in need of private healthcare. In Malaysia, there is a large group of middle-income people who will eventually migrate towards private healthcare, especially with the prevalence of private health insurance.

What markets are most attractive for healthcare tourism?

LEE: The fastest growing market for Malaysia is Indonesia, mainly because it is the nearest. The Indonesian economy is growing very fast. The ability of the people to pay, and their awareness of better healthcare, has contributed to this growth. Countries in close proximity to Indonesia, like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand will benefit from this.

What are Malaysia’s competitive advantages in the healthcare sector?

LEE: Singapore is well known for healthcare tourism because their approach is very professional. They are high-tech, and they have sub-specialties. Thailand is somewhat different. They are a very personal market. They are well known for their interpersonal skills. They attract both the higher and lower income groups. Malaysia is in-between Thailand and Singapore. Malaysia’s advantage is its population represents the three large markets: Indians, Chinese, and Malays. It attracts middle, upper, and lower income people depending on the type of cases. Malaysia’s healthcare professionals all speak English, so communication is very easy.  Malaysia can also cater to the halal needs of Indonesians and others. The same can be said for catering to the needs of the Chinese people. I think people will feel at home in Malaysia.

What are some of the challenges Malaysia faces relative to some of the other countries?

LEE: Malaysia has always looked after its own needs. Only recently have we seen many new hospitals mushrooming. Prior to that, most of our hospitals were already doing very well. The doctors and hospitals had good crowds and were not very “hungry” to cater to foreigners who had more demanding needs. As things progressed, the government recognized that we could benefit from enlarging our market and becoming more competitive. The government encouraged us to expand outward. In the next few years we will see new hospitals coming up. With this added capacity we will be able to cater to health tourism even more. Occupancy in most private hospitals is already quite high. Capacity is a challenge.

How well prepared are medical education institutions to staff these hospitals?

LEE: Attracting specialists, especially those who are very experienced, is another challenge for Malaysia. There is a shortage of them in Malaysia. Many people are being trained overseas now, and there are many medical schools in Malaysia. Over time, they will help to satisfy this increasing need in Malaysia. In the future I do not think this will be a problem. The only issue will be sub-specialists, which I believe in 5-10 years will be solved.

How do local graduates compare to those coming from abroad?

LEE: The ones who are trained locally are mainly bachelor level physicians. We are looking for the specialists. It is a different level. As far as quality is concerned, it depends on what university they come from. Some institutions are not as good in terms of their brand and their quality, although most are good. Over time, I believe most of these graduates will enter into specialist courses.

What potential do you see for retirement and elderly care facilities in Malaysia?

LEE: There is a lot of potential in Malaysia as the population ages, and the people become more affluent. Many will want to retire in style. Many will not have the children to take care of them because their children will all be working, so I think in a few more years there will be people like me who will want to retire. We will want to go to a place where all the necessities are there. The retirement homes we have in Malaysia are pretty basic. They do not have additional facilities, including healthcare, nearby. However because of the high cost of property, most of these will have to be located outside of the city. There are many different types of retirement homes, but nothing very big has emerged so far. In a few more years it will be a market developers will be looking at.