Driven by patient-friendly technology, high-quality medical facilities and ease of travel, Dubai is rapidly approaching its goals of attracting half a million medical tourists by the year 2020.
The ‘Dubai, a Global Destination for Medical Tourism’ project was launched in April 2016 by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai.
The project, which is being implemented by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), is designed to revitalise the medical tourism industry in the emirate and transform Dubai into a favoured destination for travellers in need of medical treatment.
To facilitate this transformation, the DHA has taken it upon itself to make coming to the emirate for treatment as simple and efficient as possible, relying on smart technologies and a sophisticated infrastructure to woo patients from abroad.
The Dubai Health Experience (DXH) launched in April last year – which is the brand conceived by the DHA to market Dubai as a medical tourism destination – is already attracting thousands of interested customers. Its website – a first-of-its kind – has all the relevant information a medical tourist might need, including the various packages on offer, ticket and hotel bookings, and medical insurance which covers all travel costs and complications, as well as the cost of emergency cases and return tickets if necessary. The insurance is activated as soon as the booking is made through the DXH website.
“In the first week, we had 2,500 people log into the website,” Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, DHA’s Director of Health Regulation Department and Dubai Medical Tourism, told Khaleej Times in June.
Just two weeks later, she noted, more than 25,000 hits had been recorded on the website.
Pawel Cebula of Mendigo, which has an office in Dubai and has been actively involved in medical tourism to the UAE for past several years, said that Dubai’s medical tourism sector is growing at a much more rapid pace than many of its competitors abroad.
“The overall growth of the medical tourism industry worldwide is 20 per cent per year, but in Dubai it is growing at a much faster rate,” he said. “Our data (based on the relevant Google search volumes) suggests Dubai’s medical tourism industry has an annual growth rate of about 40 per cent, largely thanks to a combination of the UAE being recognised for its high standards of healthcare and the promotion efforts of the DHA.”
Cebula noted that, in his experience, much of Dubai’s growth is being driven by bariatric (weight loss) surgeries.
“Dubai’s growing reputation as a prime destination for bariatric surgery means that, at present, it’s by far the most popular procedure being sought by medical travellers, and the interest in weight loss surgery in Dubai continues to increase,” he said. “Bariatric surgeries currently account for approximately one-third of all medical tourist procedures in Dubai.” “In the short-term, weight loss procedures will continue to be the most popular,” he added. “However, as word of mouth about Dubai as a great medical tourism destination travels to other potential patients, there will be a trickle-down effect that will see a more even spread of procedures.”
Many healthcare professionals and Dubai officials have noted that the massive boom in local medical facilities is perfectly suited to take in the massive influx of medical tourists expected over the coming years. Already, Dubai has more than 3,000 health facilities, ranging from hospitals and clinics to advanced surgery centres which employ over 35,000 health specialists.
By 2020, the number is expected to grow to 40,000 specialists spread across 4,000 health centres. The DHA, for its part, plans to build more hospitals – 18 private and four public – over the next few years to support the needs of incoming medical tourists.
Speaking at Arab Health in Dubai recently, Dr Azad Moopen, the chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare, noted that there is a “huge potential” for medical tourism in the emirate.
“Dubai traditionally is a good centre for anybody to come, and we can now add healthcare to that,” he said. “I think there is huge potential for people from the Middle East, or even the subcontinent. They are comfortable here and utilise the infrastructure.”
“What you require is actually to have good medical facilities, where people have confidence,” he added. “That is happening. More and more good healthcare facilities are coming, and that will attract a large number of patients.”
Dr Moopen noted that Dubai has a “great opportunity” to serve medical tourists from countries which lack the UAE’s sophisticated and well-developed medical sector.
“We (Dubai) should not just be focusing on patients in the UAE or even the GCC. We must be looking at Africa, for example,” he said. “Africa has huge requirements and they don’t have good medical facilities. Unfortunately, due to other reasons, this is also the case for many other Middle East countries. They have huge requirements, and because of things such as war or other social issues, there aren’t good facilities. There is good potential there.”
Dr Reem Osman, CEO of Saudi German Hospital Dubai, noted that the emirate is already receiving medical tourists from a wide-range of countries of origin, although the GCC continues to contribute a sizeable portion of the total.
“They come from different destinations. You’ll see that they come from the GCC area, or Africa, or from the UK and the countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Kazakhstan, and some more from Pakistan, for example,” she said. “But mainly still from the GCC.”
Like Dr Moopen, Dr Osman said that Dubai-based healthcare providers would be well advised to search globally, rather than regionally.
“There is no defined market,” she said. “There are many areas from where (medical tourists) can come, due to the lack of availability of healthcare and healthcare infrastructure. You must target other countries. We don’t want to limit.”
DHA’s strategy keeps interests of patients at heart
As part of its medical tourism drive, the DHA has designed a patient-centric strategy that keeps the interests of the patient at heart.
The strategy includes a charter of patient’s rights and responsibilities with which medical tourists can understand their rights before arriving in Dubai for healthcare.
Among other things, the charter notes that patients have the right to the best quality of care and pain management, be informed of the risks of treatment and any alternatives, that their privacy be protected, and that they can expect doctors to explain treatments and illnesses in language that a patient could reasonably understand, or request the services of an interpreter.
Additionally, the DHA has created a medical complaints procedure for anyone unhappy with the services they have received from a health professional or facility in Dubai. The process has been designed to address issues based on the level of severity, and provide families with a clean timetable for resolution.
The authority also notes that all medical facilities on the DXH website and group have been vetted and approved to receive medical tourists in a process that ensures that each facility meets the requirements and standards necessary.
To facilitate the arrival of medical tourists, the DHA works with a third party company to provide coverage. This policy, according to the DHA, is an important “safety net” in the event of any unforeseen complications that may arise from treatment in the emirate.
The insurance policy – which is underwritten by Alliance Insurance Company and is backed by Alliance Global and Lloyrd of London – provides cover while in the UAE for a variety of situations, including emergency medical expenses and up to $50,000 for each insured individual.
Any individual receiving treatment is automatically covered for additional expenses in the event of an unexpected complication stemming from a planned procedure in any facility included in Dubai’s medical tourism programme.
The policy is made available at the time of booking an initial appointment, and accompanying family members can buy the protection at the same time for Dh150 per person.
– bernd@khaleejtimes. com