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Gov't should increase number of medical visas to mainlanders

Over the last few weeks, Taiwan has seen an increasing number mainland Chinese tourists visiting for the sole purpose of undergoing health checkups and plastic surgery.

Following the recent Lunar New Year holiday, the government should continue its efforts to attract more tourists for the upcoming Qing Ming Festival and Dragon Boat Festival holidays, two major celebrations in the ethnic Chinese world.

Although this growth momentum is driven in part by the soaring number of direct flights between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the government could do more for Taiwan's medical tourism industry by allowing more Chinese patients to visit in tour groups or for self-guided itineraries.

With regards to the available medical facilities, hotels and transportation, the government should consider the business potential of Chinese tourists in its bid to attract visitors seeking health and wellness on the island.

After all, if we defined medical tourism as a provision of “cost effective” private medical care for foreign patients needing surgery and other forms of specialized treatment, Taiwanese hospitals are leaders in the health care industry.

In a nutshell, the equipment of Taiwanese hospitals is at the forefront of the hi-tech medical care industry. Both the private sector and the government devote billions of dollars each year to develop one of the world's most comprehensive health care systems.

If you have ever experienced the medical facilities in Taiwan, you can also attest to Taiwanese hospitals' commitment towards quality and affordable medical care. Several medical centers have even been accredited by the U.S.-based Joint Commission International (JCI) as international medical facilities.

The JCI accreditation provides a visible commitment to the quality of medical care on the international stage. It ensures a safe environment and demonstrates the hospitals' continuous efforts to reduce risks to patients and staff.

In recent years, the Chinese's perception of “medical services” has been changing gradually, though the quality of Chinese medical services has yet to reach the level of medical facilities across Taiwan.

At the same time, the continuous rise in health care costs is further shifting responsibility for payments to patients, who are looking for less expensive alternatives. The resulting change from a patient-centered system to a consumer-centered one creates new opportunities for Taiwan's entrepreneurs.

Taiwanese believe that medical care is a service industry, like the catering and hotel industries, which makes local hospitals even more attractive than other medical institutions in mainland China.

According to statistics provided by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (財團法人中華經濟研究院), the total revenue from tourists who came exclusively for Taiwan's medical services was only around NT$636 million in 2009.

With the support of the government, Taiwan could further be known in the ethnic Chinese community for its world-renowned medical and health care sector. By granting medical visas to Chinese citizens, there would be great potential in appealing to high-end Chinese tourists to visit to the island for medical purposes.

Last year, more than 4 million people traveled to Taiwan, and nearly 1.2 million of them were from mainland China, thanks to the gradual warming of cross-strait relations since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in March 2008.

As the Japanese government now grants a six-month visa to foreigners who visit for medical purposes, Taiwan's government should also devise policies that give Chinese tourists opportunities to visit Taiwan for medical reasons, rather than force them to enter the island under the pretense of business or tourism.

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