Rising healthcare costs in the United States and increased waiting periods for specialized treatment in Europe are fueling rapid growth in the numbers of medical tourists pouring into the region.
Medical tourism, the practice of crossing international borders to obtain healthcare, has its modern roots in 1980s India, when western-trained physicians returned home to establish specialized practices, replicating facilities and procedures they used abroad at significantly lowered costs.
The combo of quality treatment with current technologies at deep discount to Western prices attracted a steady flow of foreign patients, and other countries jumped about this special tourism train.
Currently, over 50 countries list medical tourism as a national industry.
Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the region’s top medical travel destinations, according to Josef Woodman, founder of Patients Beyond Borders (self-billed as “the most trusted resource in medical travel).
Woodman told AMEinfo, “Although prices are higher than in India or Malaysia, GCC states offer excellent healthcare and patients can save 20-40% over the cost of care in the US, or over elective care in Europe.” (Jordan is not a GCC member state.)
“Other patients, particularly for cosmetic surgery and restorative dentistry, often have a preferred doctor or specialist. Still others are traveling anyway and often incorporate a business or leisure trip with medical care.”
“Numbers appear to be similarly up in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Most international patients visiting the UAE originate from neighboring countries with little or no access to quality care, for example Qatar, Oman, the Turkic States, and from Iraq, Iran and Libya,” Woodman said. Jordan has seen a jump in Libyan and Syrian emergency patients in the past two years: not all “tourists” come for elective procedures.
In 2007, Deloitte Consulting projected that medical tourism originating in the US could jump by a factor of ten over the next decade. An estimated 750,000 Americans went abroad for health care that year, and the report estimated that a million and a half would seek health care outside the US in 2008.
So it’s no wonder that specialized “healthcare cities” are sprouting up all over the Gulf. There’s Dubai Healthcare City, which treated 50,000 patients in 2011, up 10 percent over 2010 figures. Oman’s jumping in: a $1 billion medical city developed by Apex Medical Group is scheduled for completion in 2014. The 1.25 million square meter Dilmunia Health Island is also underway in Bahrain.
Jordan’s medical hub pulled in 234,000 medical tourists in 2010, generating $1 billion in revenue. The kingdom experienced a 30% dip in 2011 due to the Arab Spring (86% of Jordan’s medical tourists are from neighboring Middle East countries), but predictions are healthy for steadily increasing growth.
Next up: what to do with all that medical waste and the carbon footprints of all that overseas travel.
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