Dr Prem's article in TTG Mena on Healthy Travel – Medical Tourism in Middle East

<![CDATA[

TRUE DEFINITION

Driven by the increased integration of global economies, tourism opportunities, ease of travel, cultural understanding, availability of quality affordable healthcare and implementation of international standards of services; the healthcare and tourism industries have expanded their horizons to benefit from a growing niche segment which is labelled medical tourism.

   The term itself is widely interchangeable with global healthcare, medical travel, healthcare travel and health tourism.

  However, each of these terms can be used to define specific segments of the global healthcare industry.

  Medical tourism itself fills a valuable niche that is desperately needed in countries with bureaucratically flawed or unaffordable healthcare.

  This industry looks set to expand developed official or unofficial medical tourism structures to promote their country, state or city as the true destination of choice for such a purpose.

   To support this, there is a growing trend of medical tourism facilitator businesses, or groups which provide comprehensive support services including travel, tourism, concierge, travel insurance, medical assistance and relevant medical and non-medical support services to the patient.

   CHALLENGING TIMES

Factors which are proving to be the industry’s major challenges have been identified in a recent research study which was conducted by myself, where I found out that 94 per cent of industry experts agreed that medical tourism is yet to truly reach its full potential.

  The research also observed that the confusion, or a lack of information and fear about complications following surgery, is the main reason for patient reluctance to cross international borders for health services.

  The top four challenges to the medical tourism industry were identified as being; ‘accessing reliable information’ at 59 per cent; ‘too many newcomers jumping on the medical tourism bandwagon who do not have sufficient experience or understanding of the industry’ at 54 per cent; ‘lack of pre- and post-operative care arrangements’ at 52 per cent; and ‘complicated intra-country laws and legal procedures’ at 49 per cent.

   REGIONAL SHARE

Catering to the industry with ease, the Middle East has a unique dual position in the medical and wellness tourism industries.

  On one hand, the region’s well-developed healthcare providers are preparing to capture the

 

international market while on the other hand, international healthcare organisations are tapping into the GCC’s affluent society in search of highly sophisticated and advanced healthcare services unavailable within the region itself.

   The growth of medical tourism, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE and Saudi Arabia has provided an opportunity for the Middle East, which so far has made few inroads in the sector.

  For many years already, a top priority for medical providers around the world has been to attract medical tourists from the Middle East, however, now the trend is gradually reversing as the Middle East is seeking to attract medical tourists where the cost of healthcare and delays in getting treatment have risen sharply.

  The outbound medical tourism industry is so far limited to the GCC countries while Jordan leads with regards to inbound tourism activities, and Lebanon has developed a niche segment within the cosmetic surgery field.

  The greatest challenge for the Middle East is to improve the perception of the destinations which is currently surrounding it, as traditionally not all Middle Eastern countries are known for their world-class quality healthcare facilities which can cater with ease to international patients.

  Moreover, recent political and social changes within the region have brought with them new challenges for the Middle Eastern countries to face within the medical tourism industry.

  Many countries are continuing to target the GCC market as, for instance, a recently held event entitled, International Medical Tourism Destination, organised by the FICCC and supported by the Indian government is setting up a platform in Kuwait to provide quality healthcare services at affordable prices for the regional population.

  Similarly, many other industry relevant road shows are being organised by regional governments, in an attempt to further promote medical tourism to tap into the affluent Middle Eastern patients.

  On the other hand, GCC countries have shown a tremendous interest in promoting medical tourism but I believe that these countries will have to go through a very tough process to develop medical tourism as the key challenge for them, in my opinion, remains the lack of trust in their own healthcare system.

   Another recent survey revealed that around 70 per cent of the UAE population would prefer to travel to a different country if they encounter a serious illness, and the GCC market is willing to travel, in fact they travel abroad just for common health checkups.

  The medical tourism market also has affordability for many levels, and most importantly regional governments can sponsor patients with their medical costs in most cases.

  In any case, should the GCC wish to continuously develop the medical tourism industry there is most definitely a great need for co-ordinated efforts from the GCC governments and the private sector to reverse the trend, but until then international healthcare providers will continue to penetrate the market.

 At an escalating pace over the next decade as more and more people begin to trust the quality, and see the advantages of having their surgery performed in developing countries that provide quality healthcare.

  At the same time the patient also gets an opportunity to directly or indirectly engage with the tourism activities of the destination.

  TRAVEL BENEFITS

Getting to any given destination for medical tourism purposes obviously involves travelling, which is an essential component, while tourism is an optional component however, it has been observed that either the patients themselves or their companions also certainly enjoy  the tourism attractions of any respective medical tourism destination.

  Hence, more than 50 countries have developed official or unofficial medical tourism structures to promote their country, state or city as the true destination of choice for such a purpose.

  To support this, there is a growing trend of medical tourism facilitator businesses, or groups which provide comprehensive support services including travel, tourism, concierge, travel insurance, medical assistance and relevant medical and non-medical support services to the patient.

  CHALLENGING TIMES Factors which are proving to be the industry’s major challenges have been identified in a recent research study which was conducted by myself, where I found out that 94 per cent of industry experts agreed that medical tourism is yet to truly reach its full potential.

  The research also observed that the confusion, or a lack of information and fear about complications following surgery, is the main reason for patient reluctance to cross international borders for health services.

  The top four challenges to the medical tourism industry were identified as being; ‘accessing reliable information’ at 59 per cent; ‘too many newcomers jumping on the medical tourism bandwagon who do not have sufficient experience or understanding of the industry’ at 54 per cent; ‘lack of pre- and post-operative care arrangements’ at 52 per cent; and ‘complicated intra-country laws and legal procedures’ at 49 per cent.

  REGIONAL SHARE

Catering to the industry with ease, the Middle East has a unique dual position in the medical and wellness tourism industries.

  On one hand, the region’s well-developed healthcare providers are preparing to capture the international market while on the other hand, international healthcare organisations are tapping into the GCC’s affluent society in search of highly sophisticated and advanced healthcare services unavailable within the region itself.

  The growth of medical tourism, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE and Saudi Arabia has provided an opportunity for the Middle East, which so far has made few inroads in the sector.

  For many years already, a top priority for medical providers around the world has been to attract medical tourists from the Middle East, however, now the trend is gradually reversing as the Middle East is seeking to attract medical tourists where the cost of healthcare and delays in getting treatment have risen sharply.

  The outbound medical tourism industry is so far limited to the GCC countries while Jordan leads with regards to inbound tourism activities, and Lebanon has developed a niche segment within the cosmetic surgery field.

  The greatest challenge for the Middle East is to improve the perception of the destinations which is currently surrounding it, as traditionally not all Middle Eastern countries are known for their world-class quality healthcare facilities which can cater with ease to international patients.

  Moreover, recent political and social changes within the region have brought with them new challenges for the Middle Eastern countries to face within the medical tourism industry.

  Many countries are continuing to target the GCC market as, for instance, a recently held event entitled, International Medical Tourism Destination, organised by the FICCC and supported by the Indian government is setting up a platform in Kuwait to provide quality healthcare services at affordable prices for the regional population.

  Similarly, many other industry relevant road shows are being organised by regional governments, in an attempt to further promote medical tourism to tap into the affluent Middle Eastern patients.

  On the other hand, GCC countries have shown a tremendous interest in promoting medical tourism but I believe that these countries will have to go through a very tough process to develop medical tourism as the key challenge for them, in my opinion, remains the lack of trust in their own healthcare system.

  Another recent survey revealed that around 70 per cent of the UAE population would prefer to travel to a different country if they encounter a serious illness, and the GCC market is willing to travel, in fact they travel abroad just for common health checkups.

  The medical tourism market also has affordability for many levels, and most importantly regional governments can sponsor patients with their medical costs in most cases.

  In any case, should the GCC wish to continuously develop the medical tourism industry there is most definitely a great need for co-ordinated efforts from the GCC governments and the private sector to reverse the trend, but until then international healthcare providers will continue to penetrate the market.    

 

]]>

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close