Work to be done to fulfil Dubai’s medical tourism ambitions

Destination needs to be promoted as such, and it first needs to address the flow of patients to outside the country, executives say.

Dubai has emerged as a medical tourism destination in the region, but much needs to be done to strengthen its potential, hospital executives say.

To begin with, the destination needs to be promoted as such, and it first needs to address the flow of patients to outside the country.

“A formidable challenge for Dubai is to reverse the outbound medical tourism trend, and provide specialised services in line with the required capacity and the incidence of lifestyle diseases,” said Marwan Abedin, the chief executive of Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC).

Provision for a medical tourism visa that was announced in 2012 has also yet to come into effect.

Patients continue to enter the emirate with a 90-day medical visa issued by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. The visa is renewable twice, taking the total number of days that one can stay to 270. The existing medical visa, which costs Dh1,120 and Dh660 per renewal, does not fall under the medical tourism initiative.

Insurance and malpractice coverage also needs to be clarified for overseas patients.

“Medical insurance coverage and medical malpractice coverage is also a matter that needs to be better clarified to the end-users coming to avail medical treatments in Dubai and the UAE,” said Jeehan Abdul Qadir, the executive chairwoman of American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, based in DHCC.

Dubai’s geographical proximity to South Asia and South-East Asia poses a challenge to the emirate in terms of treatment costs, said Harish Pillai, the chief executive of the Dubai-based DM Healthcare’s Aster MedCity complex in Kochi, India.

“It is also important to attract and retain patients in quaternary care such as high-end cardiac procedures and organ transplants, but because of demographics of the UAE that is young and of working age, there is not much need of such care,” Mr Pillai said. “But quaternary care is an important component of medical care and you need to have it here to stem the flow of residents to outside the UAE for such care.”

While Dubai can build its medical tourism proposition around niche areas such as cosmetic surgery, similar to Brazil or Lebanon, such a narrow focus could lead it to miss out the larger picture, he says.

Some of the challenges faced by Dubai’s ambition to become a centre for medical tourism are beyond its boundaries.

Among those are rising costs of treatment worldwide and the high cost of pharmaceutical and medical equipment, said Linda Abdullah Ruhi, the team leader for the medical tourism initiative at Dubai Health Authority.

ssahoo@thenational.ae

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Published: March 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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