KT exclusive: Why Dubai is a top health tourism hub despite Covid challenges

Photo: AFP file
Photo: AFP file

Dubai - An increasing number of visitors around the world are travelling to Dubai for medical reasons.

By Saman Haziq

Published: Thu 14 Jan 2021, 6:50 PM

Last updated: Wed 20 Jan 2021, 3:30 PM

Prior to the pandemic, Dubai had projected that about 500,000 people would visit the emirate this year to avail of its health tourism facilities.

An increasing number of visitors around the world are travelling to Dubai for medical reasons and some are making their travel plans following the emirate’s lifting of pandemic-related entry restrictions for tourists and visitors.

The Dubai government has put out its best foot forward to contain the pandemic.

Contrary to the rest of the world, Dubai is on the path to recovery at a rapid clip.

The exemplary actions of the government have allowed the UAE to be ranked as one of the safest nations during the pandemic. It is the leading country in the Arab world and among the top 15 in the world as far as the contagion is concerned.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Mohamed Al Mheiri, the director of the Health Tourism Department of the DHA, talks about the readiness of the health tourism department to receive medical tourists in Dubai and how the sector overcame the challenges posed by the pandemic by introducing several new facilities and online initiatives.

Q: Can you tell us about the readiness of Dubai’s health tourism sector to restart it in the emirate? How did the sector overcome the pandemic?

A: A recent study from Global Soft Power Index has placed the UAE on the top spot regionally and 14th globally, in terms of effectiveness in its battle against the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which reflects the strength and resilience of its medical infrastructure. This, of course, comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with Dubai's medical sector, which is also ranked as the top medical tourist destination for the Arab world and ranked sixth globally for its world-class medical facilities and highly skilled healthcare professionals. The pandemic might have affected medical tourism but it has not stopped the emirate in its efforts to introduce more innovations in healthcare. Dubai is currently home to 48 hospitals that are all 100 per cent internationally accredited. At the same time, it is also home to 44,000 healthcare professionals and working across various healthcare facilities in the area. The government has set stringent standard operating procedures for all healthcare facilities, with safety as a priority. There are Covid-19-free member hospitals ready to receive foreign patients. Various hospitals in Dubai have also resorted to offering online consultations, with plans to focus on improving services for long term and elective treatments. Dubai is drawing on its resilience to face this unprecedented situation.

The emirate is adapting to the new normal by utilising digital technology to expand and improve telemedicine services, creating a more welcoming business environment to drive medical investment and innovation, and taking its advanced healthcare infrastructure to the next level.

Q: Is there a rise in the influx of medical tourists visiting Dubai?

A: Dubai is fast gaining the reputation of being a highly preferred destination of choice for medical tourism purposes. This can be attributed to the emirate's ability to provide world-class patient care combined with the state-of-the-art treatment methodologies, healthcare diagnostics, medical infrastructure and technology present in the area. 2019 proved to be a good year for the emirate, as it recorded a four per cent increase in health tourism arrivals, which is the equivalent of around 350,118 visitors. Asians are the highest number of visitors at 34 per cent, which is followed by Arab and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals at 28 per cent, Europeans at 17 per cent, Africans at 10 per cent and Americans and others at 10 per cent. A large number of tourists visit for medical consultations and treatments in dermatology, dental and orthopedics --- three of the most sought-after specialties of 2019.

Q How is the medical tourism sector supporting Dubai’s economy?

A: The emirate is fast becoming a highly preferred medical tourism destination -- a feat attributed to the presence of a high-quality health system and zero waiting time.

Recent reports show that Dubai is ranked first in the Arab region and sixth in the world in the latest edition of the Global Medical Tourism Index, which was issued by the International Centre for Health Care Research, as part of a list of 46 of the most prestigious international destinations. The strong performance of the emirate can be attributed to its high-level competitive elements, at the forefront are modern medical facilities and integrated health services, as well as advanced infrastructures. It is also attributed to the strong commitment to enhancing the experience of international patients who flock to the emirate not only for treatment purposes, but also to enjoy an integrated tourism experience, which in turn, helps in its march towards economic growth.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has licenced a total of 3,397 health facilities in the emirate, 45 of which are newly established during the first half of last year. In line with this,

The Dubai Health Experience (DXH) is fully committed in supporting the emirate’s journey to become the most preferred global health tourism destination and a hub for top-accredited healthcare facilities.

Q: How is Dubai trying to create the perfect patient experience?

A: The Dubai health tourist journey is an all-inclusive one that aims to provide a seamless experience before, during and post-treatment phase. Patients coming from outside of the UAE can easily find all the information about treatments in Dubai via a list of facilities that have already been vetted and approved to provide key health tourism services in the emirate.

All DXH group members have an international desk to assist in planning the journey effectively and provide a concierge experience and a single point of contact during the treatment.

Dubai has a diverse number of world-class hospitals, prestigious medical institutions, and advanced healthcare facilities, supported by an excellent infrastructure. The emirate follows an approach based on promoting investment in innovations and advanced technology in various fields, including health care, to provide high-quality services. Dubai promises full efficiency and quality in ensuring an integrated hospital experience for patients.

Q: What are the specialties that can be combined with leisure and tourism in Dubai?

A: Dubai offers a diverse number of specialties under its health tourism programmes such as recreation and relaxation; health check-ups, consultations and follow-ups; detox programmes for the body and mind; treatment and straightening of teeth; and plastic surgery. Fertility treatments are also in the works. Health services in the areas mentioned are offered in various stages of treatment, to accelerate the pace of recovery.

This segment of the economy has expanded to cover other areas of healthcare such as alternative treatments and wellness services, which is becoming known as health tourism.

Studies show that the average time that a health tourist spends visiting Dubai is from four to five days --- a period that also covers the health treatment being secured. Advanced surgeries would make the health tourist spend a longer period of time visiting while patients undergoing minor surgery and non-surgical treatments spend less time visiting.

In addition, Dubai continues to attract many individuals from all parts of the world who are keen to avail of the emirate's luxurious wellness centres and offerings in five and seven- star hotels.

DXH’s unique second medical opinion (SMO) facility goes online

The DXH Second Medical Opinion (SMO) initiative is available at the DXH website. Under the programme, there are seven internationally accredited hospitals offering free second medical opinions (SMOs) for healthcare tourists across key specialties that include gynecology, cardiology, orthopedics, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and fertility treatments, neurology, oncology, and urology. Each of these healthcare facilities are manned by full time consultants and specialists that are licensed by the DHA with a minimum of 10 years’ experience. These facilities are internationally certified and are equipped with the latest equipment and technology to support these offered specialties.

Al Mheiri said that the second opinions are provided within a turnaround time of two working days once the complete reports including existing medical reports and diagnosis are provided. He added that medical records are only shared only with the specialist concerned, making patient details completely confidential.

The DXH SMO Programme aims to provide the patient with an easy and effective way of getting a better perspective and insight into the medical condition by reviewing the medical reports; validation of the original diagnosis; discuss case with the referring doctor from the participating facilities; suggest treatment plans, including latest/alternate treatment modalities available in Dubai. The SMO can be requested online via the health tourism portal dxh.ae by filling an online form and submitting the medical reports.


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