Hospitals go high-tech to lure medical tourists

NMC Healthcare, which runs 12 hospitals and clinics, would undertake minimally invasive surgeries in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain.

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Hospitals are introducing advanced surgeries in a bid to attract medical tourists to the Emirates.

NMC Healthcare, which runs 12 hospitals and clinics, said yesterday that it would undertake minimally invasive surgeries in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain. The procedures include varicose vein treatment, keyhole surgery for hernia and appendicitis, bariatric surgery to tackle obesity and a range of treatment options for cancer.

“While historically Emiratis and expats would travel abroad to cities in Europe, Asia or the United States to receive treatment for conditions that require surgery, confidence in the UAE’s healthcare standards has skyrocketed over the past decade,” said BR Shetty, the founder and chief executive of NMC Healthcare.

The number of medical tourists reached 135,000 last year, up from 120,000 in 2013, according to Dubai Health Authority (DHA). The number is expected to exceed 150,000 by the end of the year, estimates the consultant Colliers International.

DHA has a set a target to attract 500,000 medical tourists a year by 2020.

Although it is a tough target to hit, analysts are optimistic given the steps in place to reverse the trend of patients going abroad for treatment and attract patients from outside.

DHA is planning medical tourism packages covering dermatology, dental, health check-ups, cosmetic surgery, ophthalmology and orthopaedics, along with a medical tourism visa. The packages would include hotel stays and flight tickets. The emirate has 24 private hospitals regulated by DHA, and 10 more are under construction.

In Abu Dhabi, international hospitals are setting up a presence here. The Singapore-based Parkway Pantai manages Danat Al Emarat Women and Children’s Hospital in Abu Dhabi. Parkway’s facilities in South East Asia include Mount Elizabeth and Gleneagles in Singapore and Pantai in Kuala Lumpur. The multi-speciality Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open this year.

“The local investors and partners are looking to bring the branches of international hospitals where Emiratis, Saudis and other Arabian Gulf nationals go, and there is also a lot of shopping that can be done here,” said Mansoor Ahmed, the director of health care for the Middle East and North Africa at Colliers.

“The target is not only patients from the UAE, as there are not enough numbers, but also those from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran who are coming to the UAE rather than going to the Far East. Moreover, some hospitals provide good quality surgeries that were not there in the UAE, say, 10 years ago.”

NMC is not the only one to push for state-of-the-art surgeries. Last month, doctors at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital replaced three hip and knee joints simultaneously in a patient who flew to the UAE to be treated for rheumatoid arthritis.

In November, RAK Hospital started a specialised eye care centre. Owned by Arabian Healthcare Group, it provides surgeries and rehabilitation services.