Like most surgeons, Datuk Dr Colin Lee is a meticulous person. As we make our way through the KL Wellness City (KLWC) sales gallery in Bukit Jalil, he makes it a point to ensure everything is in the right place.
The managing director of KL Wellness City Sdn Bhd is a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology. He is known for his achievements in the fertility treatment industry, with his focus being on pre-implantation genetic testing.
Lee listed his in vitro fertilization (IVF) practice – TMC Life Sciences Bhd – on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange in 2005, making it the world’s first IVF company to be publicly listed. He sold his shares of him in the company in 2010.
His career gave him exposure to laboratory setups, medical tourism and the building of hospitals. He was also involved in the development of Tropicana Medical Center, now known as Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara. He has since exited the entity.
Lee’s years of experience led him to develop KLWC. Among its shareholders are Datuk Seri Vincent Tiew, former managing director of Andaman Property Group of Companies, and Francis Lim, who was CEO of Nilai Medical Center, TMC Life Sciences, Tropicana Medical Center and Mahkota Medical Center.
Tiew comes with years of experience in property development, having spearheaded projects worth more than RM2 billion during his time at Andaman. Lim started his career at Coopers & Lybrand (now known as PwC) before joining the Inland Revenue Department and later, Ernst & Young and Lion Group. He has experience in tax planning, strategic corporate development, hospital management, and mergers, acquisitions and divestments.
According to Lee, the other shareholders of the company are doctors who prefer to keep a low profile.
Medical and property development
Lee is familiar with the requirements and aspirations of healthcare tourism because of his exposure to medical tourism. Although the primary goal of healthcare travelers is to seek medical treatment, they usually have other desires as well, such as shopping and exploring the country, he says.
“When I developed Tropicana Medical Center, I was very hands-on in every area… every single room was designed by me and I dealt with the authorities… everything was handled by me. I told myself, ‘If I can do a 5-star hospital, a condominium development should be easier.’ I went on to test my hypothesis with a development in Sungai Long, Cheras. It is fully sold and it confirmed that, yes, a condominium development is actually quite easy compared to a hospital development, ”says Lee.
“Then, I started looking for land. Eventually, we completed the purchase of the tract in Bukit Jalil. But then the pandemic hit us. The pandemic is actually a blessing in disguise because during that time, the consultants we engaged were free to take on the project and the principals managed it themselves. Then, we obtained all the necessary approvals from the authorities and the development order, including those from the Ministry of Health (MoH). “
With KLWC, he hopes to create a place with holistic facilities and services that encompass healthcare, wellness and fitness, involving both Western and alternative medicines. It is about a holistic, comprehensive, fully integrated and interconnected system of medical care, healthcare, wellness and fitness.
Lee points out that in Western medicine, alternative medicine is usually not allowed. So, he hopes KLWC will be a place where people can have evidence-based Western medicine and also go next door to receive all kinds of alternative treatments. The plan is to put these services under a comprehensive healthcare mall, where all types of healthcare can be found under one roof.
“This [healthcare, wellness and fitness] is where the world is heading towards as people become more health conscious. As I age, my conversations with my friends are less and less about other things and more about health. I want to create a wholesome place where we take care of the healthcare needs of travelers and Malaysians, ”says Lee.
“KLWC has a hospital as its centerpiece. There will be medical suites and accommodation for healthcare travelers called wellness suites, as well as retirement homes, assisted living units and multigenerational units. I want to provide a place where we go beyond Western medicine, where we also have traditional medicine, complementary medicine and alternative medicine. “
Launch of first phase
KLWC is a 26.5-acre healthcare-themed development in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur. To be developed across seven parcels, the components will include a 624-bed tertiary hospital (with capacity of up to 1,000 beds), 379 medical specialist suites, a retirement resort for independent living, a retirement resort for assisted living, a healthcare mall, residential units, commercial shoplots offering health and fitness-centric retail as well as food and beverage outlets, a Multimedia Super Corridor-designated office space and a central park with cycling and jogging track.
It is estimated that the project’s gross development value (GDV), including that of the hospital, will be RM11.9 billion by 2032.
The first phase will consist of the hospital and The Nobel Healthcare Park, which will be connected via link bridges. Construction started in the second half of last year.
The Nobel Healthcare Park, with a GDV of RM1 billion, will comprise 379 medical suites in two blocks, 512 wellness suites in one block, office space and retail shops on the ground floor of these blocks. The common facilities will include a half Olympic-length swimming pool, sauna, sky gymnasium and sky lounge.
The medical suites will come in sizes of 200 to 1,500 sq ft. They will be sold at an average price of RM1,500 psf.
The wellness suites, which will have built-ups of 268 and 386 sq ft, are smaller residential units that will be fully furnished and wheelchair-friendly. These will go for upward of RM338,000, or RM1,200 psf.
Lee says it is an opportunity for doctors to have their own medical suites and business without the control of a hospital.
“Being a medical specialist myself, I know what a medical specialist wants. Many specialists want the Singapore system, which is where specialists have their own clinic where they can prescribe their medicine, charge the fee they want, do small procedures and do lab tests, ”he adds.
“They can also do corporate planning, engage junior doctors as they get older and established… These are the benefits of the Singapore system. The medical suites are built in full compliance with MoH requirements.
“The Malaysian system is different. Specialists generally work in a hospital, where they rent a consultation suite and everything is controlled by the hospital.
“Many specialists would like to have that kind of freedom [that is seen in the Singapore system]. Also, with their own medical suites next to the hospital, they are able to see their patients in their clinic and then walk over to the hospital to see other patients.
“The only medical suites available now are those next to Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur. Pantai Hospital used to have them but the hospital is slowly buying back the suites. “
Some 196 medical suites in Tower A and the wellness suites will be officially launched by the middle of this year, while the remaining medical suites will be available for sale after the hospital is opened. Some retail shops on the ground floor will be up for sale, and the developer will look for tenants for the remaining shops that will complement the development, such as pharmacies, F&B outlets, convenience shops and those selling medical accessories.
Lee observes that most healthcare travelers come with their families, so they will need accommodation and the wellness suites may suit them. The suites also cater for patients who are in step-down care – those who have been discharged from hospital but may not be well enough and may require some assistance such as daily physiotherapy or rehabilitation.
“There are doctors and healthcare workers who want to live there. When the hospital is fully functioning, we expect 8,000 accommodation units to be needed per night due to the demand from healthcare travelers. The whole KLWC won’t have that number, so we expect the wellness suites to be fully occupied. A lot of thought has gone into the development and we try to cater for what people need, as we study what doctors, healthcare workers and healthcare travelers want, ”he says.
“The positioning of the hospital is that it is one of the top hospitals in Southeast Asia. So, we are benchmarking it against the top hospitals in Singapore and Bangkok. Phase one, together with the central park, will be completed by end-2024. The 12-storey hospital will be ready by 2Q2025 because we need some time to get MoH compliance approvals and licenses.
“Malaysia is the leader in medical tourism. Foreigners want to come here for healthcare not just because we are cheap, but also because we have good doctors. “
KLWC is in advanced negotiations with a developer to build the residential units, which will span 10 acres across the whole development. This arrangement will allow the company to focus on the healthcare side of the project. It is, however, unable to name the developer until the details are firmed up.
“The mall is the second phase for us. Depending on the market’s needs, we will build accordingly. Essentially, it is a healthcare mall for non-Western medicine-related services, treatments and equipment, ”he says.
“At the end of the day, KLWC is about patient care and giving people the best they can have in terms of wellness and healthcare. Medicine has evolved a lot and it has moved on to the preventive approach from previous approaches to treatment – the curative and, more recently, the predictive.
“More importantly, it is to live as well and healthily as possible so that we minimize all the potential diseases we might have. This is the whole concept of wellness. “
Some may say this is an overly ambitious project, but Lee is unfazed. “Yes, it is an ambitious project but not overly so. It is apportioned into seven bite-size plots and is comfortably staged out. We have full confidence in the successful roll-out of this township, having had the necessary expertise and capabilities, ”he says.