Japan Firm Looks to Lure Medical Tourists With Hospital Ties

Capital Medica Co., a Japanese operator of care facilities, is seeking to acquire hospitals in Southeast Asia as it tries to get patients to choose Japan over the U.S. and other markets for heart bypasses and other surgical procedures.

“Medical tourism is a promising market in Japan and the weaker yen serves as a tailwind,” Kentaro Nakamura, Capital Medica’s head of corporate development, said this month in an interview. He said the cost in Japan of some sophisticated surgical procedures is “considerably less” than in the U.S., Singapore and Malaysia.

The global medical tourism market is worth up to $55 billion and is growing as much as 25 percent annually as the population of some markets age and become more affluent, according to research by Patients Beyond Borders. Japan isn’t among the 17 “leading destinations” the group currently lists.

Japanese trading houses are among the companies looking to boost the domestic market. Sojitz Corp. is a shareholder of Capital Medica, while Mitsui & Co. in 2011 bought a stake in Malaysia-based IHH Healthcare Bhd, the world’s second-largest health-care provider by market value.

With the number of foreign visitors to Japan increasing, Yasushi Senoo, chief research analyst covering the industry at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., said the time is right to promote medical tourism. Visitor numbers reached a record 13.4 million in 2014, partly buoyed by the drop in the value of the yen, which weakened 12% against the dollar in the year.

“Health-care treatment is a new ‘theme’ that can attract more tourists,” said Senoo. He said he backs the strategy of linking up with overseas hospitals through capital ties to provide treatment consistent with patients’ home country, and lists health-screening, childbirth and heart bypass surgery among the procedures for which Japan has a competitive advantage.

Listing Subsidiary

Nakamura said that while Capital Medica will remain privately held, there are plans to list one of its subsidiaries on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market as soon as next year. The company, which also counts real-estate developer Hulic as a shareholder, has units in property development, contact lens manufacturing and investment, he said. Nakamura didn’t specify which was the most likely candidate for an initial public offering.

“The primary aim for the listing is to improve the company’s visibility,” he said. “But we can also utilize the proceeds from an IPO for our business development.”

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