Caring for the elderly
Tourism is a very competitive business. Sun, sea, and sand are offered by many. Churches abound (temples are rarer). People are friendly, food is enticing, handicrafts are attractive. So something else is needed.
That “something,” I suggest, is to carve out a niche, specialize in something others can’t offer so readily or competitively. We recognized that medical tourism could be a salable product. And the Department of Tourism has prioritized medical tourism in its 2016-2022 Development Plan. But here we are in mid-2018 and I don’t see much of it. It’s also too nebulous, bits and pieces. It also has retirement in this country as a goal. But, again, where? I don’t see many retirees hobbling in.
I want to suggest something unique: Combine the two. Specialize in geriatric services and healthcare for the elderly, tied in with living here till life ends if they wish to. Put all our promotions into it. Forget the rest; with limited money, success comes from putting everything into one thing. Forget the backpackers (they spend little, anyway) and gawking tourists; concentrate on the old. They have money. Filipinos care for the elderly as part of their nature. The old will be happy and content here.
We have beautiful places to retire to, we have world-class hospitals and doctors (I’ve had international experience on both and can confirm this). And we have something few others have—well-trained nurses who truly care for their patients, and staff equally caring and concerned. They won’t tell you to wait your turn in line to talk to a doctor when your child is rushed into ICU, as I saw in a movie on an American hospital.
Doctors are well-trained here, with added specialty experience overseas that is hard to beat. But we should allow foreign doctors in, too. I’m sure an old Japanese person would be more comfortable with a compatriot, let alone one who understands the language. As I said in my column of Aug. 9, “a Japanese doctor may not join the retired Japanese senior citizens we’re trying to attract to give them comfort, and understand what they say and want. Are a few foreign doctors a threat to ours? Aren’t we desperately short of doctors? Wouldn’t it be great to have foreign interns volunteer their services to the rural poor — who otherwise see no one?”
We also need to bring hospitals, or at least a branch of them, to where you’d want to retire. Makati, Bonifacio Global City or Alabang, where the top hospitals are, is not where anyone would want to retire to. Another thing that would help: 24/7 helicopter service, with medically-equipped services.
But it’s not just retirees we could look after; it’s those over, say, 65, who just need repair of the illnesses the old suffer from. Let us be the specialists in these services and be known for it. Encourage medical students to specialize in geriatric services.
And if we bring the old, the young will come, too — without any need to promote. They’ll want to visit Lolo and Lola. So put retirement villages in places that will appeal to the young, too, and where still healthy oldies have fun things to do.
As The Economist pointed out in its July 28 issue (which is what triggered this thought): The Croatian tours of Zalok attracts thousands of patients to have hip or knee replacements at the St. Catherine hospital, which specializes in orthopedic services at a fraction of the cost and no long wait. Bangkok is known for accomplishing sex changes, Hungary for teeth replacement, Mexico for hair transplants.
Seems to me we’ve got a better one — caring for the elderly. But it’s important to have set fees for specific services, as Thailand does. Allowing doctors to set whatever fee they’d like won’t do. Someone considering flying here will want to know what it’s all going to cost before they fly.
As I highlighted in my column more than four years ago (“Stay home, it’s more fun in PH”—July 10, 2014): “There are two tourism sectors that the Philippine government must promote more actively: medical tourism and retirement. Both are attractive ideas, retirement especially. The genuinely loving care and respect for the elderly (I sure love that) versus the Westerners’ ‘plonk them in an old people’s home’ attitude add to a favorable climate and a place where a pension can go a long way.”
That was four years ago; little has happened since.
Is little going to happen in the next four years, too? Or will our new tourism secretary agree and shift in this direction? Let me stress that ALL effort must be on this, nothing else, otherwise it won’t work. When you specialize, you specialize.
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