Healing the well-heeled at Dubai's boutique hospitals

Hospitals aim to make the Emirates a major destination for luxury health care.

Dubai, 30th July 2008.  A busy scene at the reception of the Jebel Ali Hospital.  (Jeffrey E. Biteng / The National) *** Local Caption ***  na04 au hospital2.jpg
Powered by automated translation

Dubai // Boutique hospitals - complete with chauffeur-driven transfers and private suites - are aiming to make the Emirates a major destination for luxury health care. Over the past decade, these private facilities have begun competing with other popular medical destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai, the 20-bed Jebel Ali Hospital, part of Lifeline Healthcare, has taken customer care to another level. Opened in 2005, the first boutique hospital already has plans to double its capacity. "People expect more and more, and bigger and better, all the time," said Dr Belal Hashim, the hospital's marketing officer. "That is what we try and cater for here.

"It is about offering the best possible customer service to people, as well as the best expertise. Dubai is all about being the biggest and the best." Dr Hashim said the hospital had taken full advantage of the health care market and offered promotional packages on comprehensive check-ups and two-for-one deals on plastic surgery procedures. More and more people are seeking health care abroad, often to beat waiting lists or access cheaper private care than they could in their own country, but also for treatments not available at home, such as plastic surgery.

In November, IIR Middle East will host Dubai's first Healthcare Travel exhibition and congress, a two-day event that is expected to attract more than 500 travel agents, healthcare professionals and insurance companies. Sietske Meerloo, marketing manager of IIR Middle East, said it was the first of event of its kind where different stakeholders could meet to discuss putting Dubai at the forefront of the medical tourism market.

"Globally, the UAE is behind places such as Asia," she said. "Singapore, for example, is far ahead of everyone else. "But if anywhere can do it, Dubai can. I think it is great that hospitals and clinics are reinventing themselves and trying to improve. It is fantastic that they are going the extra mile. "Dubai has already done a great job promoting itself in other areas. If you were to ask someone from Europe to name a luxury holiday, Dubai would be in the top 10."

Ms Meerloo said more hospitals would be following in Jebel Ali Hospital's footsteps, and that luxury and economy packages combining medical treatment and top hotels would become the norm as the market continued to expand. "It is a very good thing for Dubai," she added. The Jebel Ali Hospital offers corporate packages, promotions and a chauffeur service, making the facility seem more like a five-star hotel than a sterile environment featuring operating theatres and waiting rooms.

Inside the hospital pieces of art adorn the walls. There is not a medical chart or health promotion poster in sight. Dark marble and frosted glass replace the usual sterile walls and doors. There are water fountains scattered around the building. "Ten years ago you would not have seen anything like this," said Dr Prem Jagyasi, Lifeline Healthcare's group director. He added: "Why do we run a boutique hospital? We are surrounded by an affluent society and they want a good service from the moment they walk through the door.

"Boutique means providing exceptional care and quality of medical services in a striking relaxing ambience. The levels of expectation here are much higher than elsewhere. Dubai offers more than basic hospitality." Jebel Ali Hospital looks to be the first of many such facilities, as big names such as Harvard Medical School and Great Ormond Street Hospital have all recently been attracted to the 500-acre free-zone complex that is Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC).

"There is a lot happening here at the moment," said Dr Hashim. "Everyone wants to boost their services." @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae