Middle East should promote medical tourism carefully


While medical and health tourism within and to the Middle East is expanding, travel agents have been warned to be cautious.

At a recent conference in the region, Dr Prem Jagyasi of Dubai medical tourism consultancy ExHealth, said travel agents looking to take advantage of the opportunity needed to be aware of the many challenges involved in healthcare travel.” Healthcare providers are highly monitored; you have to ask how do you promote your services; what are patients’ needs and can you assure them on all pre-operation and post-operation needs? How do you identify the good healthcare providers? Do you charge the patient or the provider?”

According to UAE medical tourism agency Galavantor Middle East’s Rose Ann Shetty, there were other challenges for companies entering into the medical sector, “Creating awareness among local insurance companies to cover overseas surgeries and advertising due to the MOH restrictions is our biggest challenge.” Shetty also advised agencies looking to enter the medical tourism sector to be aware of the legal implications of sending a patient across borders. Hospitals are answerable to the law in their country and UAE laws will not apply.”

Due to the technical nature of so many aspects of medical tourism, both Shetty and Dr Jagyasi said it was important to be a specialist in the field, and it was dangerous to dabble in the sector. Shetty added,” Specialist agencies spend considerable time undertaking due diligence and compliance audits on hospitals and surgeons to ensure their clients receive the highest standards of treatment and medical care.”

Dr Jagyasi suggests that the UAE has all the right elements in place for medical tourism, "The UAE has already the right infrastructure in place with the Dubai Healthcare City, Shaikh Khalifa Medical City and other private healthcare providers. There is an opportunity for medical tourism in the UAE with the GCC as the target market but the country has to build lots of trust in the healthcare system. For the UAE medical tourism to become a success, it is imperative to identify the hospitals that will promote medical tourism and what services they offer. In addition, promote services that are not covered by health insurance such as hair restoration, plastic surgery, dental treatment, cosmetic surgery, spa treatment, and where people can easily travel before and after the treatment." Dr Mehmet Hizarci of CFA International Consulting, takes up the theme,” First and foremost, we should stop sending patients outside the UAE."

Shetty sees potential for the UAE as an inbound medical tourism destination, with Galavantor offering inbound services by the end of the third quarter of 2009.However, Shetty added the inbound medical market to Dubai would not be anywhere near as big as the government envisioned, “The two major hurdles are quality and high price. While facilities are excellent in the UAE, there is a serious lack of qualified and experienced medical workforce. It is not enough to have been educated in the West, specialists need to have experience and proven, successful track records.



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