RAK’s medical tourism plan coming to fruition and looks to wow Bollywood stars
Ras Al Khaimah // It has been 11 years since the northernmost emirate began a project to become a destination for medical tourism. While the sector has grown, with the luxury, hotel-style RAK Hospital receiving about 150 patients from abroad each month, there is still work to be done, according to doctors.
“We wanted to combine the hotel and hospitality concept with medical tourism,” said Dr Raza Siddiqui, head of the Arabian Healthcare Group, which, along with the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, helped to develop the idea of medical tourism in RAK, inspired by Swiss and American systems.
“The idea was that the hospital should also look after the needs of the local population,” said Dr Siddiqui. “In the first two years we focused on this, making sure the local community no longer had to travel abroad for treatment.”
Attracting patients from other emirates in certain fields of medicine remains a challenge. “For people from Abu Dhabi, from Dubai, it might not be the ideal choice to come to RAK for treatment,” said Dr Siddiqui. “To optimise the market, we realised we had to step outside the UAE.”
Five years ago RAK Hospital began treating patients from abroad for a range of complex issues, from neurosurgery to cancer and cardiac surgeries.
Outreach offices in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bahrain allow doctors to follow up with patients after surgery is complete and they have returned home.
The 70-bed facility, which has a hair salon and spa, will be doubled in size as part of expansion plans over the next six months, which will also increase the number of intensive-care beds to 36.
“We haven’t yet ventured into cosmetic surgery but it’s very profitable,” Dr Siddiqui said. “The next stage is to focus on Bollywood stars, the rich and fa mous, where they can come and stay in the local resorts, charter planes here, do the surgery and nobody will know them.
“They can be discreet and be in a place where people will just think they’re holidaymakers.”
RAK Hospital’s chief executive and head of surgery, Dr Jean-Marc Gauer, came from Switzerland to work on the project. Being an hour from Dubai airport is a big advantage, he said. “A person from Dubai would be more hesitant to come here than would a person from a country such as Ethiopia,” Dr Gauer said. “It’s a challenge to bring the domestic population here.”
Perceptions of RAK as a destination and a healthcare provider are slowly changing as awareness increases, said Dr Anup Kumar Panigrahi, head of the hospital’s keyhole and bariatric surgery teams. “When we go to Dubai for conferences now, people have heard of RAK Hospital,” he said. “Three years ago it wasn’t the case. Now, it’s on the map.”
About 30 to 40 per cent of his laparoscopy patients come from Dubai because of a lack of such specialists in the emirate.
Dr Siddiqui said a good relationship with the tourism industry, travel agents and tour operators was key to taking the project further. “When we go to other countries, the first people we partner with are the travel agents,” he said. “They play a very important role.”
Published: July 10, 2015 04:00 AM