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DIALOGUE: International SOS: Bringing Elite Healthcare to Tianjin
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For decades International SOS has been serving both the foreign community in China and Chinese clients who are working abroad. In order to truly settle whilst living in another country people must ensure that their healthcare needs are met without too much difficulty. Fortunately International SOS provides the best support network for expatriates and their families here in Tianjin and indeed, across the globe. Through their services you can receive assistance 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and get access to the best healthcare available!

We spoke to the company’s CEO, Mr. Tan Mui Huat, to gain an insight into the work which this outstanding organisation does and to find out how International SOS can help our readers.

Firstly, please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?

I originally come from Singapore. I graduated from the National University of Singapore and I also hold an MBA from Strathclyde University in the UK.

I joined International SOS in 1995, and since then I have held various leadership roles across Asia. Currently, as the President and CEO of North Asia, I am based in Beijing, where I am responsible for growing International SOS’ business and service network in North Asia. 

During my time in China I have worked with our clients to provide critical assistance and support to help them fulfill their duty of care to their employees. This includes many international crises such as the 2011 earthquake in Japan, Bali bombings, SARS, Swine Flu and H1N1 epidemics.

You have a great deal of experience as a business leader. Please can you tell us about some of your accomplishments as the CEO of North Asia for International SOS?

The past few years have been eventful for International SOS in Asia. One of the key business highlights has been the development of the organisation within the Chinese market. This has included forming partnerships with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide medical assistance to their employees abroad, as well as large Chinese companies expanding their business to Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

We have also been privileged to have been the chosen medical provider at high profile international sporting and business events like the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the Fortune Global Forum held in Chengdu this year. It was exciting for us to be involved in the Olympics and we were proud to work with our clients to support their activities during the games. As the medical partner for the Fortune Global Forum we were honoured to support the health and wellbeing of the delegates to this significant event.

An important achievement for us recently was the launch of our Assistance App. This App is one of our newest developments and it supports our clients and their staff around the world through the power of their smart phones. Using the App, our members have access to the latest medical and security information globally, as well as have a direct dial through to the International SOS assistance centre closest to where they currently are for routine medical or travel advice, or in the event of an emergency.

During my tenure as CEO of North Asia, it has been my privilege to lead the organisation’s diversification and growth strategy to further support the needs of our clients. Over the years our services have expanded to include International SOS doctors and nurses providing emergency and general medical support on over 40 client sites. In the past year we have delivered 350 days of first aid training to over 3,000 trainees around China.

Another area where we are also seeing increasing demand is our health consulting services. China is now the third largest consulting region for International SOS globally. Last year we provided consulting services to over 60 clients in China ranging from occupational health support, to Site Health Reviews and Ergonomics assessments.

For those of our readers who don’t know what International SOS does, can you please provide a brief insight.

International SOS has been in China since the late 80s and therefore we are very well established. Today we employ over 650 people in China, more than half of which are medical professionals.

International SOS’ mission is to look after the needs of our clients and their demand for international-standard healthcare. Health risks in China can vary based on location and these risks need to be recognised and managed. One of the fundamental things that we do for our clients is provide them with information and guidance. We can advise which hospital to go to, which doctors to see, arrange appointments, help with translation and also accompany patients. We have a 24/7 assistance centre that directly connects to the other 27 assistance centres we operate globally and we provide on-site medical services on 32 client sites in China. 

Our security services provide our members with support in the event of a security issue. From a lost passport to a natural disaster, through our assistance centres members can get advice, emergency translation and logistical aid.

At our clinics, we provide the high quality international standards of healthcare that you would expect abroad. In Tianjin we operate two clinics for the benefit of our members; one in downtown Tianjin and one in the economic development area (TEDA).

Tell us about the roles you have played during the major health crises of the past decade.

We have always provided a strong information and support platform for our clients throughout the recent health crises. From addressing individual concerns to providing actionable advice through our Pandemic Information Services, we work with our clients to help minimise the risk to their employees, as well as minimising the potential impact to their business that could result from the latest health concerns to pandemics such as Swine Flu or SARS.

Examples of the kinds of support we provide are advisory email alerts, up to date advice through the assistance centre and support for continuity planning for companies to protect their business.

Presentations with Q&A sessions to individuals have been a key part of keeping people informed and we have held community talks in Tianjin on the recent air pollution and how it could affect your health, as well as a session on the latest Bird Flu outbreak. The Fukishima Earthquake and Tsunami were other situations whereby we kept our clients and their staff updated, through our dedicated website, on the situation and the potential impact it could have on people as well as their businesses.

What are some of the health related challenges facing expats in China and why is it important to have a support network from organisations such as International SOS?

Expats and travellers in China face many healthcare related challenges as they live and work in China. These challenges range from varying levels of care in different cities, to language barriers as well as cultural differences in the way medicine is practised.

The foundation of our service offering is our network of Assistance Centres. These Centres are staffed by experienced doctors and operational staff and can provide immediate medical and security help and advice. So wherever you are and whatever problem you have, you can call us. We provide the full spectrum of support, from pre travel advice, to general medical enquiries, to emergency Air Ambulance evacuations.


Why should people choose your company over your competitors?

International SOS has the strongest presence in China of any global assistance company. With offices and clinics around the country, a dedicated air ambulance, as well as the Beijing and Hong Kong assistance centres, International SOS has the infrastructure and resources in place to provide effective, practical and informed medical and security advice and support in China. 

Unlike many other companies in the market, International SOS provides a comprehensive, integrated medical and security assistance solution. Together with our travel tracking and online services, International SOS is able to support our clients throughout the travel and expatriation process of their staff. From providing pre travel advice to employees before they leave their home countries; to over the phone support when they are in need; to tracking, locating and assisting in the event of a crisis or natural disaster. International SOS provides continuous support and care from before they depart until they are safely home.

Our global presence and local knowledge, combined with our network of professionals, enables us to protect our members and offer them help and support wherever they may be in the world.


Do you see International SOS diversifying its services in the coming years?

Along with our medical and security assistance services, International SOS is also growing our Concierge brand, under the newly launched Aspire brand. Aspire works with financial institutions such as banks, to provide concierge and personal assistance services to their high net worth individual clients. These services can range from arranging tickets to a sold out event to purchasing the latest limited edition Luis Vuitton bag from Paris to orchestrating elaborate birthday celebrations for their child.

This is an area whereby we expect to see continued strong growth as China’s appetite for lifestyle products increases.

Is the demand for your organisation’s services still growing in China?

We are still seeing significant growth in the demand for our services in China. Foreign companies are increasing their investments, not only focusing on the eastern seaboard, but also investing deeper into China where support services are less developed.

There is also increasing demand from Chinese companies rapidly expanding overseas and sending their employees to places like Africa and the Middle East. Chinese companies face many challenges when dealing with the healthcare systems, and safety systems abroad and we are working with many Chinese companies to help them navigate the barriers.

Where do you see most of International SOS’s clientele coming from in the future?

As a global organisation our clients come from all over the world. We expect this trend to continue with stronger representation from Chinese clients.

Can you tell our readers about some of the schemes your company offers that are particularly valuable to members of Tianjin’s international community and their families?

In Tianjin our two clinics provide international-standard health care to our members. These clinics are staffed by foreign and national doctors, bi-lingual nurses, and have an international standard pharmacy. Members are also supported by our global 24 hour emergency assistance platform that allows them to speak to a doctor anytime, day or night for routine advice, or emergency support.


By Business Tianjin speaks to Mr. Tan Mui Huat CEO
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