August 18, 2021
Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has emerged as one of the key industrial sectors for economic growth in the UAE. It has been ranked sixth globally for its top medical facilities. The medical tourism industry in the UAE generated AED 12.1 billion (USD 3.29 billion) in 2018, witnessing a 5.5% annual growth rate. The country saw around 350,118 visitors, registering a rise of 4% in the health tourism arrivals in 2019 from the previous year. Medical tourism in the UAE is developing rapidly, and the state-of-art healthcare infrastructure and government initiatives are helping make the UAE a hub for medical tourism. This is on the back of a high-quality health system and no waiting time.
The UAE has become a preferred destination for westerners seeking medical care because of the rising healthcare costs and the lack of insurance coverage for specific procedures such as dermatology, dental, and orthopedics in western countries. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the major hotspots for medical tourists and have an extensive network of hospitals and medical centers, offering the best medical treatments and cosmetic procedures. The United Arab Emirates has 14 hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International, a United States-based organization that approves health care organizations and programs. The top specialty for healthcare tourism in Dubai includes cancer treatment, dentistry fertility procedures, dermatology and skincare, and orthopedics.
Hospitals in the UAE have the most up-to-date surgical equipment and innovative technologies for cancer and other treatments. Many established hospitals are offering affordable and specialized care, such as the set of Saudi German Hospital, InterHealth Canada, and Rashid Hospital’s Trauma Center, Al Jalila Hospital and the Al Zahra Hospital, among others. The UAE has medical tourism portals that allow international medical tourists to book a consultation and even make reservations remotely from their home countries before their travel.
Government Initiatives in Medical Tourism
Medical tourism portals (Abu Dhabi Medical Tourism portal, Dubai Health Experience) have been launched by the UAE government that let international medical tourist book procedures and access a wide range of tourism services. The services range from direct contact with healthcare providers, visa issuance, booking appointments, hotels, transportation to other recreational activities. To strengthen Dubai’s position in the medical tourism sector, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) introduced the Dubai Health Experience (DXH). This online portal gives access to a wide range of tourism facilities such as booking appointments with healthcare professionals, hotels, transportation, visa information, and other recreational activities. DXH members manage an international desk to support the visitors in planning the journey efficiently and offer a concierge experience. It acts as a single point of contact during the treatment. DHA provided licenses to 3,397 health facilities in the emirate in the first half of 2020. There are 20 licensed centers focused on traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine (TCAM) in Dubai.
DXH introduced a Second Medical Opinion (SMO) program in February 2020, focused on helping the patients make the best and most informed decisions about the treatment. It offers a second opinion from a team of multidisciplinary specialists and consultants within two working days. The full reports, consisting of existing medical reports and diagnosis reports, are provided. The attractive feature includes a fast turnaround of two days and around seven internationally accredited hospitals registered. There are about seven areas covered under the SMO program, including:-
- In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF)/Fertility related treatments
The program is available on the DXH website.
As per the report published by the International Healthcare Research Centre (IHRC) of its Medical Tourism Index (MTI) 2020, Dubai held the highest position as the top Arab destination for medical tourists. Also, it ranked sixth on the list of 46 unique destinations. Dubai’s specialties under its health tourism programs include recreation and relaxation; health check-ups, consultations and follow-ups; detox programs for the body and mind; dental treatment; fertility treatment, and plastic surgery.
Medical Tourism in COVID-19
The government had anticipated the arrival of about 500,000 people in Dubai to avail of its health tourism facilities in 2020. The coronavirus put a hold on traveling and restricted the movement for tourists and visitors. The UAE government has successfully managed the fatality rate at around 0.3%, with a recovery rate of more than 90% in the country, highlighting the country’s healthcare system and promoting excellent treatment and research development facilities.
The UAE stood as one of the safest nations during the pandemic because of the government’s actions to contain the pandemic, signifying its medical infrastructure’s strength and resilience. The government has set up COVID-19-free member hospitals that are ready to receive foreign patients and offer tele-consultancy to handle the pandemic situation. As patient mobility is returning to times before the COVID-19 period, new patterns of medical appointments are expected to create new opportunities along with the challenges related to trust and safety, requiring the entire medical tourism sector to come together. It is expected that the inbound medical tourism will recover soon, providing quality service at affordable levels to match the cost of treatment. Considering all the plans executed by government, Dubai is aiming to attract around half a million health tourists by 2021.