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September 26, 2008

UAP Diliman Holds Design Conference on Medical Tourism

Contributed by Arch. Rex Tamase, BS Architecture


The United Architects of the Philippines held its 2nd Design Conference on Friday, September 26 at the Astoria Plaza Suites in Pasig City.

The Design Conference, titled “Medical Tourism: Rx for Architects” was hosted by the Diliman Chapter's VP for Programs & Planning Ar. Flori Sebastian and featured talks by Dr. Vicki Belo, Ms. Marjorie Lopingco, and Ar. Dan Lichauco.

Dr. Belo defined medical tourism as a trend where one travels to another country for medical, dental, and surgical care. She explained that the increase in the popularity of medical tourism is due to the high cost of private healthcare in industrialized nations, the ease and affordability of international travel, improvement of technology and care standards in other countries, and the favorable currency exchange rates in the global economy. She added that the Philippines’ strengths as an emerging beauty capital are its skilled and artistic medical practitioners, excellent patient care service, outstanding English communication skills, competitive pricing, and more than 7,100 islands for unlimited tourism.

According to Dr. Belo, the common services availed of in medical tourism include dental, cosmetic and plastic treatments, sex change, weight/bariatric, even cardiology and oncology treatments. She noted that angioplasty costs around $40,000 in the US compared to $15,000 in the Philippines.

She said that “facilities should not be too elegant because patients get intimidated.”

For her part, Ms. Lopingco, president of the Spa Association of the Philippines, Inc. defined wellness as the absence of disease and “a healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit that results in the overall feeling of well being.” She said that a spa “is a place where active, sustained use of natural therapeutic agents and health giving elements are applied within a hospitable environment. Spa is both a place and a process of time.” Ms. Lopingco added that a spa “is a series of health-promoting applications which utilize some form of water, baths and bathing in and with natural therapeutic agents such as mineral waters, vapors, airs, herbs and mud” and that some form of water and bathing is a prerequisite for any place calling itself a spa.

She enumerated the types of spa users as the periphery spa consumer, the mid-level spa consumer, and the core spa consumer. For the core spa consumers, spa visits represent a way thinking and a way of living, favoring spa treatments or activities that reinforces their ongoing transformation.

Ar. Lichauco said that the general idea of medical tourism is that medical services are outsourced, and that these outsourced medical services should be seen as “alternatives that are more accessible, cost effective, and provide equal – if not superior – medical care.” He identified the major markets as the US citing its “extremely expensive medical care;” Europe due its socialized healthcare which is not too accessible; the Middle East due to its insufficient number of facilities, religious limitations and need for privacy; Australia and Asia for its aging populations.

Ar. Lichauco identified the types of facilities design as systemic, cosmetic and cultural. Systemic design includes all systems like HVAC, Electrical, Emergency Power, Auxiliary, Fire Protection, Information, and Sanitary, which all work together to enhance the ability to effectively deliver services and ensure infection control and prevent cross-contamination. Among these systems are stand-alone radiated sewage waste treatment plants; pressurized stairs, areas of refuge and fire compartmentalization; laboratory emergency systems such as eye wash facilities for those handling chemicals.

Cosmetic design deals with the ability to make the place nice-looking and conducive to the business of healing. He cautioned that cosmetic also has a function and that “materials are selected to go beyond looks and image but have important functionalities” such as durability, anti-bacterial properties, odor, resist inordinate abuse, and meet burning and emissions standards.

Cultural design, on the other hand, deals with the “operating culture” or the inherent culture of the organization, and the “local culture” or the culture expressed by being the Philippines, which would include the practice of having “non-hospital” food brought in, thus necessitating the need for refrigerators in the patient’s room; and the “bantay” where family members stay in the room to tend to the patient’s needs.

Ar. Lichauco said that in medical tourism, the design of facilities play an important role in the development of the industry where the design professionals “also have to be” doctors, nurses, medical technicians; hospital administrators and businessmen; engineers, marketers, purveyors of good taste, and astute observers of the human condition.

He concluded by saying that medical tourism is an active design process where “knowing what one does not know” is critical to the success of the project, and that the role of the architect is “to act as a ‘peer’ who challenges and questions current paradigms in order to understand the problem develop appropriate solutions.”