Consistent with the changes brought about by globalization in several major industries, the healthcare landscape today has evolved to become a truly global marketplace comprising a growing number of countries competing to attract patients by offering a wide variety of medical, surgical, and wellness services. Dubai’s achievements in this regard have been outstanding, driving its unparalleled growth as a medical tourism hub. This can be ascribed to the country’s unwavering focus on improving its healthcare infrastructure in terms of both quality and quantity, with the support of a strong and transparent regulatory framework.
The global medical tourism market, pegged currently at around USD 100 billion, is growing at a rapid rate of approximately 20 per cent YoY. The UAE is expected to record the highest growth rates in healthcare spending between 2017 and 2022 at 9.6 per cent, according to Alpen Capital. Dubai is already playing a significant role in this growth, marked by constant adoption of healthcare technology, highly specialized medical professionals, and promising partnerships to introduce advanced health-care technologies, practices and standards from the West. Besides, the emirate is expected to house around 34 pharmaceutical and medical equipment plants, raising the value of the UAE’s private pharmaceutical industry to AED 25 billion by 2025.
According to the Medical Tourism Index for 2016 – 17, Dubai ranks first in the Arabic world in terms of three main aspects, which are, the highest score for quality of facilities and services in the region, medical tourism industry and the destination’s environment. So, what exactly are the factors driving this growth? The strategic location of the emirate and its easy connectivity to other parts of the world could definitely be the top reasons, followed by a highly qualified pool of multi-disciplinary medical professionals, a strong health and regulation framework, choice of world-class facilities, absence of long waiting lists, a highly conducive environment for recovery and of course, the ease of travel due to the simplification of visa rules and related procedures.
Dubai’s medical tourism industry generated more than AED 1.4 billion in 2016, as revealed by DHA. The emirate welcomed 326,649 medical tourists, reflecting a growth of 9.5 per cent over the previous year. Non-invasive cosmetic procedures were one of the main attractions for tourists, with orthopedics, ophthalmology, dental and fertility treatments being the sought-after specialties. A travel insurance program has also been specifically designed for health tourists travelling to Dubai, to support health tourism. Looking ahead, the number of medical tourists is set to go up to 500,000 by 2021.
The pivotal role played by health regulation in delivering optimal healthcare to both residents and tourists cannot be overlooked. The stringent evaluation criteria for the empaneled healthcare facilities promotes ethical nature of new medical advancements and physicians, thereby making them morally and socially responsible for the delivery of safe and high-quality health care.
The robustness of Dubai’s healthcare sector is evident in the range of advanced healthcare facilities and latest treatments offered by the emirate. The number of physicians now registered in Dubai has grown to 33 per 10,000 people, which is a higher ratio than the UAE as a whole (27 per 10,000) and moving closer to the Swedish number of 39.
International accreditation of health facilities in Dubai rose to 96 per cent, up from 80 per cent in 2015. The medical sector in Dubai is one of the largest sectors with 31 hospitals, around 3,700 private health clinics that have around 35,000 employees and more than 8 million annual patient visits. Additionally, there are 40 DHA governmental health facilities adding to the sector’s appeal.
A Fifty-Year Charter was unveiled by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai in January 2019 for the further development of the emirate. By providing medical consultations 24/7 by hundreds of thousands of doctors, specialists and consultants from around the world through smart government applications, Article 5 of the charter aims to change the traditional medical system and bring doctors closer to patients, enhance awareness and to utilize best professional expertise in the medical field to provide high-quality patient-centric care. In line with the achievement of the charter’s goals, DHA is making significant progress in the adoption of telemedicine technology across its medical facilities and is working on developing the infrastructure of its medical facilities. In addition, the Authority is also harnessing the potential of the latest technology and smart solutions in AI, Blockchain technology and 3D printing to deliver best-in-class services, elevating Dubai’s health sector to even greater heights.