Everybody agrees that taking a vacation is good for your health. Relaxation, combined with fresh air and a bit more exercise than usual, does wonders for your mental and physical well-being. So why not add a comprehensive physical exam to your itinerary, so you return to work not only refreshed, but also reassured that those annoying headaches were nothing more than stress?
Medical treatment in Taiwan is top quality, yet surprisingly inexpensive by U.S. standards. In 2015, life expectancy for Taiwanese males was 77 years, while that of females reached 83.6 years – both higher than in the United States. Several major hospitals have received accreditation from the Joint Commission International (JCI), the global standard for healthcare certification. Many doctors have studied in the United States, and most specialists speak fluent English. “The island offers the cheapest and best medical facilities of any country in the world,” concluded a report in October 2014 in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, referring to data compiled by HSBC Bank.
All in all, Taiwan – only slightly larger in area than Maryland but populated by 23 million people – is an excellent choice if your travel plans include a checkup, dental work, or elective surgery such as LASIK. At the same time, tourists who do not plan on going anywhere near a clinic during their trip can set out from home secure in the knowledge that – if they do chip a tooth while enjoying Taiwan’s wonderful cuisine or scrape a knee when riding a rented bicycle around Sun Moon Lake – they can get effective treatment with the minimum of fuss.
Taiwan’s government has been prioritizing tourism for well over a decade. In 2016, a record 10.7 million foreign travelers visited the country. But accurately counting the number of medical tourists — those who leave home primarily to receive surgery or therapy — is not easy, because Taiwan allows American citizens – along with Australians, Japanese, most Europeans, and many others – to stay for up to 90 days visa-free without having to explain their itinerary. Data from hospitals, however, suggests that each year, tens of thousands of people take the opportunity to come to Taiwan to save money on medical treatment and/or cut waiting times.
The potential savings can be huge. According to the website Medhalt.com, the cost of heart bypass surgery or a hip-joint replacement in Taiwan is about one-fifth of identical procedures in the U.S. Even after paying their airfare and other expenses, Americans traveling to Taiwan for surgery can expect to save between 40% and 55%, the website says.
Of course, the majority of medical tourists do not schedule anything as dramatic as heart surgery. Instead, they book a checkup at an institution like Taiwan Adventist Hospital (TAH), which was founded by American missionaries in 1955. TAH offers eight physical-examination packages priced from NT$4,800 to NT$68,800 per person. Visitors who arrive in Taipei without an appointment should head to TAH’s Priority Care Center. The center has been providing multilingual services, including consultations with specialists and private rooms for admitted patients, to both tourists and resident foreigners since 1989.
Flying from the U.S. to Taiwan takes at least 11 hours, and even if medical treatment is the main purpose of your visit, it would be a great shame to leave without seeing something of the country. For this reason, some medical tourists choose the Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien. It is not only one of Taiwan’s leading medical centers, but is also situated less than an hour’s drive from the breathtaking natural beauty of Taroko Gorge.
Another facility that has positioned itself for medical tourism is Chang Bing Show Chwan Memorial Hospital, located on the west coast in central Taiwan. The ancient temples and beguiling backstreets of the picturesque town of Lukang are just 15 minutes’ drive from this 1,000-bed hospital. Getting to the nearest big city of Taichung to get to the airport, High Speed Rail, or any of the city’s fabulous restaurants seldom takes more than 45 minutes.
The liver transplant team at the Kaohsiung branch of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital performed Asia’s first successful liver transplant in 1984. In 1997, they completed the world’s first living donor transplant without blood transfusion. The team has handled more than 1,500 cases, and achieved world-class one- and five-year survival rates of 96% and 91% respectively.
National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH), the country’s leading teaching hospital, has long been among the most respected medical institutions in the region. In 1979, NTUH surgeons separated three-year- old conjoined-twin boys. It was the first such success in Asia, and only the fourth in the world. The surgery was expected to require a great deal of blood, and among those who donated especially for it was John Evans, then governor of Idaho, who was in Taipei attending a trade conference.
NTUH was also the site of Asia’s first kidney transplant in 1968. The hospital completed 1,000 such procedures between 1988 and mid-2013, with slightly more than one-third involving live donors. According to the hospital, the five-year survival rate of its patients is 95.2%. NTUH is also Taiwan’s principal lung transplant center, reporting a three-year survival rate of 51%. Cheng Hsin General Hospital in Taipei has a superb track record for heart and kidney transplants, and the Chang Gung Craniofacial Research Center in north Taiwan’s Taoyuan City has repaired more than 30,000 cleft lips and palates since 1981, earning it an international reputation.
Several hospitals provide cosmetic surgery; double eyelid surgery and augmentation rhinoplasty are especially popular procedures. Prices are typically half those in Japan and comparable to or even lower than those in South Korea.
Even if one is on crutches or in a wheelchair, it’s easy to get around in Taiwan, especially Taipei. Great progress has been made in terms of barrier-free access to museums, railway stations, and other public places. Facilities for the disabled are now standard at public restrooms.
Foreign visitors taking city buses or mass rapid transit (MRT) trains have praised the willingness of local people to quickly give up their seat when they see someone who needs it. Taxi fares are relatively inexpensive compared to other major capitals in the world.
For additional English-language information about healthcare in Taiwan, visit the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s website. Detailed information useful for medical tourists can be found at the multilingual government-sponsored site. For general tourist information about Taiwan, please contact the tourism hotline at 0800-011- 765 (toll free when calling within Taiwan), or go to the Tourism Bureau’s website.