Take a trip to Dubai, the healthy way

Asma Ali Zain/Dubai
Filed on June 5, 2016 | Last updated on June 5, 2016 at 07.06 am
A screen grab of the ‘Dubai Health Experience’ portal which offers an overview of medical tourism services and packages in Dubai.
A screen grab of the 'Dubai Health Experience' portal which offers an overview of medical tourism services and packages in Dubai.

Khaleej Times tries to find out why Dubai will be the ideal choice for medical tourists in the wake of the city winning the 'Highly Recommended Destination of the Year' for medical tourism

From a quick nip and tuck to a total knee replacement package that also takes care of the visiting patient's residence and visa issues is what the Dubai Health Experience is all about.

While the patient checks into a chosen facility for a medical procedure, the accompanying family member can take in the sights and sounds of Dubai.

The Dubai Health Experience (DXE), that was launched in April through its website, is already drawing the attention officials hoped it would.

While the main challenge for Dubai is the cost comparison with its Asian rivals, the health authority argues that this can be countered by promoting the Dubai brand, supplementary attractions and better facilities.

The emirate also argues that the UAE's strategic location between the East and the West can help the country compete with traditionally strong medical tourism markets across the world, including cheaper destinations such as Thailand and Singapore.

The launch of DXE, which is a comprehensive site that allows medical tourists to book tickets, access comprehensive information about the health care services, visas, hotel and other touristic services and packages, is a step in this direction.

Last week Dubai won the 'Highly Recommended Destination of the Year' for medical tourism at the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) Medical Award 2016 in Spain. The achievement brings the emirate closer to attracting more than 500,000 medical tourists annually by 2020, according to a senior health official.

"Dubai was able to win this title due to its strategic location, diagnostic and treatment services, ease of getting visas, availability of medical insurance, competitive packages and infrastructure," said Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, Director of the Health Regulation Department and Dubai Medical Tourism, in an interview with Khaleej Times.

In 2015, Dubai saw 630,833 international and domestic medical tourists, 47 per cent of which were international medical tourists generating Dh1.5 billion in revenues.

Upcoming plans

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) plans to build 22 hospitals including 18 private and four public in the next few years to support the expected high volumes of medical tourists.

Currently, Dubai has more than 3,000 health facilities ranging from hospitals and clinics to advanced surgery centres with more than 35,000 health specialists working in the sector.

These numbers are expected to grow to 40,000 specialists and 4,000 health centres by 2020.

The DXE project also qualified Dubai to win this title, she said, adding that it was too early to comment on the success of the plan. However, analytics from the website have been positive.

"In the first week, we had 2,500 people log in to the website," Dr Layla said.

Two weeks later, the number of hits had reached 25,649 of which 36 per cent were returning viewers and 37 per cent new.

People were viewing what Dubai had to offer from countries such as Egypt, Germany, Saudi Arabia, UK, India, Qatar, Turkey, Spain, Iran as well as from within the UAE.

"We want to be transparent in what we offer.the packages on offer show what is included and what is excluded," added Dr Layla.

"We are building our project on the basis of talent, trust and transparency for all."

While the health authority does the job of a regulator, services are offered by 25 healthcare groups that know what will sell in the growing medical tourism sector.

Any patient undergoing the Dubai Health Experience is offered a safety net through the tourist medical insurance which other destinations such as Thailand and Turkey do not offer to the clients.

"This buys a patient a peace of mind," said Dr Layla.

"If anything goes wrong, the insurance covers all costs for these patients and those accompanying them," she added.

The insurance company will bear the cost of flying the patient back into Dubai, as well as residence and required treatment costs.

Insurance for a medical tourist costs Dh150. Currently, a medical tourist visa is valid from one to three months and is extendable twice up to 270 days.

"We are studying options to include more flexibility in the visa duration.we may allow issuance of visas for a week also," said Dr Layla, the director of Dubai Medical Tourism.

Cost effective packages

"The packages are cost effective for patients," said Dr Shajir Gaffar, Chief Executive Officer at VPS group healthcare group.

Among the popular packages on offer by Burjeel Hospital on the site are knee replacement surgeries that cost between Dh125,000 to Dh185,000.

"Both packages have been on offer since the hospital's inception three years ago and majority of those who come in for knee replacement surgeries opt for one of the packages as it is more cost effective," Dr Shajir said.

While the costs pertain only to the surgery - from hospital stay to medications to the surgeon fees - the hospital offers the patient and the family assistance during their visit.

Other services offered (with additional costs) are VIP meet and greet at the airport, concierge services, travel arrangements, hotel booking and limousine services.

"We have tie ups with some of the leading hotels in the country and will aid in the necessary arrangements," he said.

According to Dr Gaffar, Dubai has already established itself in the forefront for medical tourism.

"In fact over 60 per cent of our patients come from overseas."

But are these packages financially feasible for medical establishments in the long run?

"Our offerings in terms of surgical expertise, technology and medical facilities are unparalleled," the CEO of VPS Group said.

"By providing such packages, we are offering the patient complete transparency on what to expect from the surgery. There are no hidden costs and in the long run this is of mutual benefit for both the hospital and patient."

"The portal is an open forum where the patient can compare costs and opt for procedures/surgeries best suited to his or her budget," he said, adding that all hassles pertaining to travel such as visas are taken care of to ensure a comfortable travel experience for the patient and family.

Services, packages in demand

Aesthetic services are also among the most popular packages chosen by medical tourists.

Dr Sanjay Parasher, Director of Cocoona Aesthetic and Day Care Surgery Centre, said bariatric surgeries, face-lifts and hair transplants are the most in demand procedures among medical tourists.

The centre advertises a range of packages on the website - from breast enlargement surgeries (Dh24,000) to Vaser Liposuction (Dh22,500) which includes a hotel stay (up to Dh1,520 per night inclusive of breakfast), a half day city tour and a dhow cruise dinner among other facilities.

The procedures can last from anywhere between five to 10 days.

"Mummy make-ups (post pregnancy surgeries) and face-lifts are also popular among patients from UK, Germany and from some countries from Africa who ask for breast reduction," said Dr Sanjay. Others come in from Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

According to the doctor, Dubai is a cheaper option for tourists from Europe.

"Dubai has the benefit of medical insurance and a good infrastructure."

Fertility treatment is also in huge demand.

"The IVF (In-vitro fertilisation) package is our most popular package for couples while an increase has also been seen in male infertility cases," said Dr David Robertson, Group Medical Director at Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic, Dubai.

"Our packages start from Dh27,000 depending on the treatment plan recommend by the doctor and the individual case," he added.

Dr David also said that the facility had seen a huge increase in patients who came through online sources.

"The website has helped patients find the relevant information in one place, especially for medical tourists who have been looking at Dubai as a destination for fertility treatments," he said.

Transparency and no hidden costs make the packages attractive, according to the director.

"We disclose all costs when explaining our packages to patients so they are aware of what they're paying for," he added.

Fees for visas
> Medical visa costs Dh550
> Multiple medical visa entry visa costs Dh1,400
> Visa for a patient's escort is priced at Dh1,400
> Medical insurance costs Dh150

Popular procedures
> Aesthetic/cosmetic procedures (facelifts, tummy tucks, hair transplants)
> Fertility treatments
> Orthopaedics and sports medicine
> Ophthalmology
> Dental
> Dermatology and cosmetic dermatology treatments
> Wellness and preventive health check-up
> Weight loss management and surgeries 

Health matters

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