A 28-STORY, 500-room medical-IT building is set to rise on Kalayaan Avenue, Makati by 2014. To Century Properties chair José Antonio, that’s not enough despite the presence of other tertiary hospitals in the area.
“Any economist that looks at the Philippines says we have statistics to die for. Our population is 95 million. By 2015, we’ll be 100 million. Don’t you think that’s a lot of health care needed?”
He adds, “Seventy percent of illnesses are treated on outpatient basis. Because of this, there’s a need for people who want to be checked up, diagnosed and treated outside hospitals. People are afraid of infections in hospitals.”
Antonio paints the scenario: Medical tourism is expanding in neighboring countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India. Last year, the Philippines posted tourism revenues of $25.3 million, 60 percent of which were provided by foreigners.
He adds that 5.7 million Americans underwent liposuction last year.
“Instead of spending for their lipo there, which is not included in the health-care benefit, they can do it here for a third of the cost, including airfare. The balance can be used in Boracay.”
An optimist, he cites the growing middle class composed of OFWs who leave the country poor and come back with a car, a house and a job. There are other economic indicators such as the car sales and new malls that reflect the Filipinos’ purchasing power, as well as health-care cards that make medicine more affordable.
“The country will be moving up along with the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter and health care,” he says. “We just don’t put up a building. There has to be a demand. Many balikbayans come here for dental or cosmetic procedures or to have their glasses made. As long as there’s a base population that needs health care, then there’s a demand.”
Centuria Medical Plaza is Century Properties’ fourth medical arts building. Although Antonio began with residential buildings, he saw the growing need for medical buildings to provide doctors spaces for clinics. Centuria’s predecessors are the Medical Plaza in Makati and Ortigas and the Medical Arts Building of Asian Hospital.
Asked how these buildings made a difference, Antonio replies, “It afforded doctors who could not practice in hospitals to have their own clinic. There were pockets of clinics all over Metro Manila but not a single building where all doctors could participate. In Centuria, the difference is that it is also a diagnostic center. No need to hop from one building to another. Back then, we just sold clinics. Now we are adding common equipment used by doctors. We put the IT backbone,” he explains.
Centuria is meant as an outpatient facility.
“No heart transplants or infant deliveries but we will have a fertility clinic,” he says. “Nowadays, dialysis centers look like spas. This going to be world-class.”
Centuria has tied up with General Electric Philippines, Inc. and its subsidiary GE Healthcare, a top provider of medical technology and healthcare information.
“Medical records are electronically filed. Even patients abroad can access their files. In the past, you’d bring the X-Ray to the doctor. Now it can be downloaded. Even abroad, you need the records for reimbursement and insurance. If you digitize, no need to carry the papers; they’re available online with privacy,” he says.
The building will be composed of clinics specializing in different disciplines of medicine including alternative medicine; floors devoted to diagnostic equipment and services; rooms for aesthetic procedures; recovery suites; restaurants; a VIP elevator; and units for other service providers in health, wellness and preventive medicine.
The clinics are 30-sq m modular units designed to make the patient feel at ease.
“Don’t you feel good entering a clinic without filing cabinets? We will be digitalizing the records. Looking at the IT requirements, we have to be ultra-modern so that the international perception of us being ‘barriotic’ will be removed. Why would a BPO like JP Morgan do business here? Why not also do it for medicine?” says Antonio.
The businessman adds that patients will be provided with doctors’ profiles.
“We intend to communicate to the public their credentials through our website.”
Centuria will exude the ambience of a deluxe hotel, he says, with interpreters and concierge service to help foreign patients.
“The government should give a 30-day visa for medical tourism patients. We will have a travel office where they can renew their documents, so there’s no need to queue at the Department of Foreign Affairs.”
On Centuria as his pet project, Antonio explains, “I feel the Philippines is missing its chance to be a major player. We can’t get our act together. This is our way of helping the country to position itself. We have the ingredients to compete against our neighbors. We have good doctors and nurses, but our facilities are wanting. That is why we are putting this world-class facility in partnership with GE.”
Antonio admits he’s envious of Thailand because of its international perception that the medical facilities there are more advanced. The country has been bullish about promoting its medical tourism worldwide.
“Thailand set up offices abroad and drove patients to their country,” he says.
Similarly, Singapore is enjoying a proliferation of outpatient medical buildings. Antonio laments the Philippines’ lack of facilities and network to bring in more tourists.
“We have the potential: low costs and experience. Our doctors and nurses are recruited worldwide. Why are there not enough international patients in Manila? We have not marketed the country as a whole. Despite the tourism promotions, we must improve the product. The Philippines must be accessible.”
Although Centuria targets the foreign market, Antonio points out the strong local base. Makati’s daytime population swells to three million.
“How many need a check-up? There’s a lot. All we need is 300 to 500 patients a day and our doctors will be busy,” he says.
Antonio doesn’t believe that Centuria would compete with other hospitals.
“I’m just creating a platform by which doctors can practice good medicine in an environment that promotes efficiency and good experience for the patients. It will raise the bar,” he says.