Medical Tourism|15/12/2011

Prince Court Medical Centre — A Beauty in Waiting

If there was a beauty contest for hospitals, Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia would definitely be a finalist.   That’s what I was thinking while sitting in the lobby waiting to see the new hospital CEO.

The hospital is stylish.  It’s the Armani or Lexus of hospitals.  Petronas, the owners, spared no expense building it.  Glass and marble, pitched ceilings, expansive views, robotic surgery, aquatic rehab center, swiss food catering, coffee shops and rooms that really do rival top end hotels.

For the medical tourist, Prince Court Medical Centre ticks all the boxes.  It’s just minutes from the Kuala Lumpur’s city center, the famous twin towers, top shopping centers and leading hotel chains. When I toured Prince Court for the first time in 2007, I remember thinking that this was going to be Malaysia’s answer to Bumrungrad in Thailand and Mount Elizabeth in Singapore.  It has everything — pedigree, looks, location and service.

But, as it turns out, the diamond has a flaw.  Prince Court suffers from a psychological condition known as a personality disorder.

When Prince Court first opened, it was billed as a six star hospital, and with that comes the perception of high prices and exclusivity.  Local patients were impressed but intimidated to use the hospital, and local insurers balked at paying a premium for ambiance.  Malaysians have money; that’s not the issue, but they just aren’t accustomed to spending it on luxury healthcare.

Prince Court Medical CentreThe obvious solution (mine at least) was to court (again with the pun) regional medical tourists that wanted and could afford all the accoutrements that Prince Court Medical Centre offers.   But in a strange twist of logic, the owners were sensitive about positioning the hospital as too foreigner friendly.  They wanted medical tourists, yes, just not too many medical tourists.

So what’s a hospital to do?  Well, Prince Court took the road less traveled.  It tried to position itself as the affordable, luxury hospital with the hopes of attracting the mass market. While that sounds good in theory, it simply doesn’t translate in the marketplace.  Simply put, no one believed it.

First, advertising regulations in Malaysia prohibit hospitals from advertising medical services and promotions.  So even if the hospital did offer affordable packages, they were restricted from telling anyone.  Second, it’s expensive (and futile) trying the market what you are not.  “We’re not as expensive as you think,” is a bad tag line. Third, when you look like a Four Seasons, people automatically expect you will be priced like a Four Seasons.

So here’s this attractive, well equipped medical centre that by all rights should be the icon of Malaysian healthcare and a magnet for medical tourists, but instead it’s trying to figure out what it wants to be.  Calling Dr Freud.  Dr Sigmund Freud.

If Prince Court was my patient, I would sit her down and have a nice heart-to-heart chat that would go something like this.

Embrace who you are.  You don’t look, feel or even sound like a mass market product so why are you trying to be one?  Petronas built exclusivity into the building and into the brand.  The challenge is not justifying your price, but rather promoting your worth.

Love the one that loves you.  Go for the medical tourists and watch the locals follow.  Locals tend to value local brands more when they are perceived valuable or popular by foreigners.  It’s true.  I’ve see this happen a million times, and all you needs is a tall dark and handsome gentleman caller to make the local boys (and girls) jealous.

Build your reputation around the experience, not the price.  People will pay a premium if the experience is worth it.  Singapore Airlines, Four Seasons, BMW and Disney know this, because they deliver an experience.  You need to develop a fan base on what you deliver; not how cheaply you deliver it.

Prince Court Medical Centre is a beauty.  No doubt about it. But without a personality, she’s just another pretty face.

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  • Hi Ruben. So glad to see you are using all of your talents via this blog and I predict massive success! Wit, good writing and your expertise in the global medical tourism arena are a great combination. But you have done one thing more that really counts – you are willing to have an opinion and that is what people are looking for. Looking forward to future posts!

  • Hello Ruben,

    Thank you for the eye-opening stories. My colleagues and I get into this trap sometimes.



  • Hi Ruben, well said. Your blog is a good read because you provide real information, a straightforward commentary and with our background of success it has credibility. Keep these observations rolling along.

  • Great post, Ruben. I’ve been on their campus at least 4 times and it was a ghost town. So much potential, a leadership that understands hospitality, wonderful equipment and medical technology, caring and compassionate doctors and nurses, polite customer service staff … and empty halls and no heads in beds.

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