Sun, sand and scalpels
Health tourism caters to a wide array of preventive, curative and elective medical procedures.
Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, Director of Health Tourism Council, Dubai Healthcare Authority (DHA), says Dubai aims to attract 500,000 medical tourists by 2020. In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, she elucidated the vision behind the plan, which is to map Dubai as the preferred destination for medical tourism. Estimates say the initiative could boost the economy by Dh2.6 billion a year by 2020, with an increase in the annual revenue by 13 per cent every year. Excerpts from an interview:
How did the DHA start the concept of medical tourism?
Dubai Health Experience (DXH) is a prestigious brand conceived by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) to strengthen the position of Dubai on the world map of medical tourism under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council.
In April 2014, Dubai Executive Council approved the Dubai Medical Tourism Strategy with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) responsible for the initiative and to provide oversight and promote medical tourism. The vision is to position Dubai as a globally recognised destination for elective health and wellness treatments.
What has been achieved so far?
Today, Dubai continues to be the number one medical tourism destination in the Arab region and the 16th health tourism destination globally. Dubai Health Experience is enabling Dubai to fulfil this vision ever since it was launched in April 2016. The launch of www.dxh.ae, a single window digital gateway and the DXH mobile app available both on Apple and Android stores, allows health tourists the opportunity to compare and choose from over 600 healthcare packages. Dubai's official health tourism website attracts an average of 10,000 visitors per month. The portal also offers options to request an appointment and a 24/7 live chat.
The packages on offer are provided by our DXH Group members, which have been carefully evaluated by the Health Tourism Council. The number of the partnering healthcare facilities has exponentially increased from 25 to 45 members in less than two years. Our partners from the public and the private sectors are constantly collaborating with us to achieve our target of attracting 500,000 health tourists by 2021. We are continuously implementing strategic approaches, including easing the visa issuance process for tourists coming from Russia and China. Such initiatives have enabled us to increase health tourist numbers.
Additionally, developments in Dubai's wellness sector empower the emirate to continue attracting investment, which will go a long way in providing quality healthcare access to residents, as well as tourists. We are broadening the health tourism's portfolio to position Dubai as a holistic wellness provider. For instance, the emergence of projects like The Retreat Palm Dubai MGallery by Sofitel, the first holistic wellbeing resort in the Middle East, is adding another edge to Dubai's offerings in the health tourism sector.
What is the outlook?
All of DXH's initiatives are holistic and our strategy is designed to keep the patient's interest at the heart of all activities. Dubai's health tourism digital portal, www.dxh.ae, includes a charter of patient's rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, the DHA has created a medical complaints procedure for any health tourist who is dissatisfied about the received healthcare service.
Dubai also offers a unique Medical Tourism Insurance policy, which is underwritten by Alliance Insurance Company and is backed by Alliance Global and Lloyds of London. Any individual receiving treatment is automatically covered for additional expenses in the event of an unexpected complication stemming from a planned procedure in any facility, included in Dubai's health tourism programme. The policy is made available at the time of booking an initial appointment, and accompanying family members can buy the protection at the same time for Dh150 per person. This policy is an important "safety net" in the event of any unforeseen complications that may arise from treatments in the emirate. We are working with our strategic partners from the public and the private sectors to establish an ecosystem for Dubai's health tourism sector.
Why is medical tourism important for the emirate?
Health tourism is playing a significant role in boosting Dubai's economy by attracting visitors from all across the globe. In 2016, the revenue generated from international patients was worth over Dh1 billion, reinforcing the growing contribution of the sector to the national GDP. Dubai aims to attract 500,000 medical tourists by 2020. This could potentially boost the economy by Dh2.6 billion a year by 2020 with an increase in the annual revenue by 13 per cent every year.
How many medical tourists have come since the programme was launched; are we close to meeting the target?
We submitted Dubai's medical tourism strategy to the Executive Council in 2014. Our initial expectation was to attract 170,000 medical tourists by 2016. In 2015, Dubai received 298,359 international tourists. In 2016, with a growth of 9.5 per cent, 326,649 international patients came to Dubai for various treatments and specialities.
What are the future plans and outlook?
The experience of the journey as a health tourist is what enables Dubai to stand out in the global health tourism sector which eventually attracts savvy tourists to the emirate. As a result, the healthcare sector will continue to evolve to deliver an outstanding service that exceeds patients' expectations. The Health Tourism Council is constantly collaborating with vital partners, including the private and the government sector, to enhance the health tourism experience.
Availability of various health checkups, health programmes like detox, anti-ageing combined with alternative treatments and wellness resorts, provide an opportunity to avail the complete wellness offering in Dubai. We have also partnered with Health Bank to launch DXH SmartCare, enhancing the customer experience by offering end-to-end services right from research of doctors and health facilities to treatment, accommodation, translator services and post-treatment follow-up.
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