Dubai’s global appeal to medical tourists continues to rise

DHA’s DXH initiative has given a great boost to the city in international health tourism markets, with over 337,000 medical tourists visiting last year.

July 30, 2019 Deepa Narwani, Editor

The journey of medical tourism in Dubai started back in 2012. The initiative was launched by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, who gave the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) the responsibility for building a strategy around medical tourism. It was approved by Sheikh Hamdan in 2014 and since then the Medical Tourism office came into existence and was under the regulation department at the DHA. The department has had an organic growth and became the Medical Tourism Council in 2016. In 2018, with the change of the structure at DHA, it evolved into a department under the Health Regulation sector.

In an interview with Arab Health Magazine, Linda Abdullah Ali Ruhi, Consultant, Health Tourism Department, DHA, shares: “The interesting thing is that in Dubai, health tourism is under regulation and the focus is more on quality care rather than commercialising healthcare. That is going to be our outlook and that is how we are working towards strengthening the city’s position as a destination that offers high quality of care.”

Sheikh Hamdan launched DHA’s DXH initiative in April 2016. It serves as a continuation of ‘Dubai, a Global Destination for Medical Tourism’ project and forms part of the government’s efforts to make Dubai a global health tourism destination and a gateway to the finest medical experts and premier accredited healthcare facilities. The website www.dxh.ae has two tabs – Wellness Dubai and Medical Dubai. The medical one is focused on treatments while the wellness focuses on health check-ups, preventative care, as well as alternative medicine, which is regulated in the city.

Ruhi says: “DXH has received a great response. So far, we have had an increase in year-on-year of patients coming to Dubai. Last year we had 337,000 medical tourists coming into Dubai. Our aim in 2021 is to attract half a million health tourists and are quite close to achieving it.” Excerpts from the interview.

Sheikh Hamdan launched DHA’s DXH initiative in April 2016. It serves as a continuation of ‘Dubai, a Global Destination for Medical Tourism’ project and forms part of the government’s efforts to make Dubai a global health tourism destination and a gateway to the finest medical experts and premier accredited healthcare facilities.

What do you think is currently driving the healthcare industry forward in the Middle East? What role is medical tourism set to play?

Several factors are driving the Middle East’s healthcare industry such as the growing population in the region with longer life expectancy. Another is the steady shift to value-based healthcare at reasonable costs. Innovation in technology and business models is also fuelling growth within the regional health industry as well as better organisational setting, which is increasing efficiency in the patient flow.

Furthermore, the ongoing digital transformation efforts in the region have had a dramatic impact on the health tourism sector as well as the many relevant initiatives that help bring the health community together. Patients today are more empowered as they prefer to take an active role in selecting the best and most appropriate treatments. This is what we try to provide to them through DXH, our digital gateway. The website provides an array of choices and information. We also try to keep visitors engaged through our social media channels so that they can make informed choices before they choose their next healthcare and wellness destination.

Is Dubai on its way to establishing itself as a medical tourism hub?

We are confident that Dubai is gaining great progress in its bid to become a medical tourism hub worldwide given its excellent healthcare facilities, world-class medical professionals, easy visa procedures, and extensive health packages. To date, we have over 600 packages from 72 healthcare facilities that include 18 hospitals and 54 specialties centres. In 2018, the local sector’s revenue reached AED 1.163 billion. The number of health tourists during the same year stood at 337,011. We also recorded a 9 per cent growth in the number of healthcare facilities vetted and included in the health tourism DXH Group member programme. DXH continues to participate in several global events and roadshows to reinforce Dubai’s position in the international health tourism market.

What would you say is the value of medical expenditures from visiting international health tourists? Could you share the countries from where medical tourists visited Dubai?

The sector’s 2018 revenue hit the AED 1.163-billion mark in 2018, reflecting the influx of global health tourists to the emirate. In terms of international patients, around 33 per cent came from the Arab and GCC countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. About 30 per cent were from Asia, including India, and Pakistan and 16 per cent from Europe, including Italy, the UK, and France led the ranks from Europe. Some countries from the Africa region are also steadily becoming a source market. Health tourists come to Dubai mostly for wellness, dental, and orthopaedic treatments.

How does the future look like for Dubai’s medical tourism industry?

The UAE will continue to play a major role as the region’s medical hub and Dubai will sustain its global appeal to health tourists. This year, we will see growing adoption of the latest innovation in the field of stem cells, regenerative medicine and 3D printing, so we are spearheading such innovative techniques in the region. Moreover, DHA’s new and simplified healthcare licensing procedures will attract both investors and highly qualified medical professionals from around the globe. This will give us a strong foundation of trust that we are building with those that seek healthcare in Dubai.

Also, new investments will lead to the offering of technology-driven services delivered by the finest healthcare professionals. The services that will draw the most health tourists are dental, orthopaedic, dermatology, ophthalmology, health and wellness, aesthetics, and fertility. This will attract more and more health tourists to come to Dubai and is giving us more confidence that we will continue our appeal. We are always strengthening our USPs and will continue to create this unique experience in collaboration with our stakeholders. In Dubai, both the public and private sectors are working hand-in-hand to create a successful journey for the patient. What Dubai has achieved in this short span of time is proof that the city is working towards being the number one in whatever project it takes on. This is thanks to the higher leadership that continues to give us directions as well as directives to grow.

From our end, we will continue to create a unique experience in the healthcare delivery standard; integrate and offer new medical and wellness service packages, and open new markets for Dubai. Our focus will remain on partnerships with key stakeholders and on our #DXHWellness campaign, which aims to promote a healthy and holistic lifestyle.