Taipei, Oct. 25 (CNA) While rescue workers were busy searching for a group of Chinese tourists missing in eastern Taiwan, another group of Chinese nationals were enjoying a leisurely checkup in the serenity of a hospital in the country’s capital.

The group of 25 tourists, mostly middle-aged women in the beauty and cosmetics business, completed a detailed health exam Monday morning at Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital, said Alex Hung, president of Shin Kong Medical Club.

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The experience was so enjoyable, Hung said, that some members of the group canceled the sightseeing part of their trip to squeeze in more health tests Tuesday.

“In China, a hospital is a place for sick people, ” said a woman who would only identify herself by her surname Qian. She described the Taiwanese hospital as being more like home, with the strong aroma of coffee replacing the usual smell of disinfectant.

This group of medical tourists from Nanjing arrived in Taiwan Friday, a day after nearly 300 Chinese nationals were stranded on the scenic Suhua Highway on the east coast because of landslides triggered by Typhoon Megi.

Most of them have since been evacuated to safety, but 20 of them remained unaccounted for as of Monday night.

When asked whether the incident had any impact on her plan to come to Taiwan, Qian replied that initially her family had had qualms about her journey, but once a scheduled trip to the eastern part of Taiwan was scrapped, she jumped at the opportunity.

The Chinese visitors would not reveal how much they paid for the tour, but each had to first pay a membership fee of NT$177,890 (US$5,834) to join the Taiwanese-invested, Guangzhou-based Zion Health Control and Youth Rejuvenation Center (ZION).

ZION’s stated purpose is to promote Taiwan’s medical tourism to upscale consumers in China, offering them medical services at the centers on the mainland and bringing them to Taiwan for more thorough checkups once a year.

According to ZION CEO Tomson Lin, at least two groups of Chinese travelers will come to Taiwan every month for medical checkups beginning in December, boosting the country’s medical tourism industry.

Lin explained that for medical tourism to flourish in Taiwan, promoting low-risk health checkups is a first step.

“Not only does it build up consumers’ confidence, it is also easily accepted by most people,” he said.

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(By Nancy Liu) ENDITEM/ls

The Japanese government is seeking to encourage medical tourism to selected hospitals. The main market is wealthy people from abroad, mainly Chinese and Russians. The government owned Development Bank of Japan, estimates, from a base of almost no current medical tourists, 430,000 medical tourists to Japan in 2020. How the bank arrived at this substantial figure and whether it is a prediction or a target to aim at, is not explained.

The government is considering specific measures:
• Creation of a medical service visa system designed to allow foreigners greater flexibility regarding the duration of their stay.
• Establishing an authorization system for medical facilities eligible to accept overseas patients.
• Promoting efforts to develop language-interpreting services at medical institutions.

Japan is a very late entrant to the medical tourism market and hospitals are focusing on health check services as a first step. Japan is a world leader in the use of high-tech examination devices such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) systems. Health checks combined with sightseeing tours are the current offering in Nagasaki and Fukushima for people from China, as direct flights are available between the two and Shanghai. Nikko Medical Center in Nikko, has launched a sightseeing medical service department to combine checkups with trips to temples and shrines. Other places are arranging tours based on health checks for diabetics.

Profesor Toshiki Mano of Tama University argues that a medical tourism industry based on health checks is not sustainable in the long term, “Japan is the only country that is trying to capitalize on health checks as a centerpiece of medical tourism. This can work for the present, since only a relatively small number of foreign patients from abroad are currently seeking medical treatment in Japan. However, there’s no telling whether the situation will be the same in 10 years time.”

Mano argues that if Japanese hospitals continue to rely on medical examination tecnology to boost medical tourism, major targets like the Chinese and Russians will not come to Japan once such services become available in their own countries, and at a lower price than offered in Japan. Thinking long-term, he says that the government should work to provide foreigners with treatment for digestive problems, an area in which Japan is particularly advanced and should also make such cutting-edge medical technologies as regenerative medicine the core of medical tourism to this country in the future.

He also points to problems in long delays in government authorization of the domestic use of medical devices and products newly developed abroad, and the growing fear that Japan’s medical system will collapse due to the shortage of doctors. Mano argues of the danger in letting the treatment of foreigners take precedence over Japanese patients.

Others argue that as in Asia, to ensure that Japan’s medical services will have a good reputation overseas, the government should consider not only promotion of medical tourism but also the feasibility of exporting the country’s medical facilities and expertise. Yukihiro Matsuyama at the Canon Institute for Global Studies argues, “The world is shifting away from the age of medical tourism to the direct export of hospitals and university medical departments. If Japanese hospitals and medical schools are not strong enough to branch out overseas, there will be little chance of this country winning the battle with other nations for medical tourism.”

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