Medical Tourism Boom in Jordan and United Arab Emirates

Catch some healing sun with your operation? The Middle East’s healthcare industry is booming.

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.

Image of wheelchair-using sunbather from Shutterstock

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3 thoughts on “Medical Tourism Boom in Jordan and United Arab Emirates”

  1. Laurie Balbo says:

    I can testify to the positive experience: both in quality and economy.

    Just had significant dental work done that would’ve cost double (I price-checked with 3 USA dentists); couldn’t be happier with the end results.

  2. Jerry says:

    Informative article. We in the United States are used to the argument by our politicians that so many persons come to the United States for medical treatment because our healthcare is so good. It is good to see balancing information like this.

    1. I think for cutting-edge procedures and the *best* doctors in the world people still go to the United States. When one can’t afford hundreds of thousands of dollars in healthcare expenses, they choose the latter option. For treating lupus, for instance, a relatively common immune disorder, a Jordanian colleague of mine asked me to find a referral for a free healthcare service in Israel where there are lupus specialists and human rights doctors abound. For local Jordanians who can’t afford treatment, or when basics are not available, I am not sure how medical tourism benefits them in any way. The same is true for other poor nations where tourists go for treatments that are not accessible to the average citizen.

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