In the UAE, Medical Tourism Is a Two Way Street

UAE Aims to Flex Some Medical Tourism Muscle

The tiny Persian Gulf country of the United Arab Emirates has only recently begun to make efforts to make inroads into the medical tourism industry. Its most robust emirate, Dubai has recently announced the development of the “Healthcare City,” an ambitious half billion dollar medical tourism center that will provide healthcare services, medical education, and life sciences research, and promises to be one of the largest healthcare complexes in the world. With big names like Harvard Medical International adding their weight to an already impressive project, the Middle East seems all set to have its own version of Bumrungrad. Which is all fine and dandy, except for one tiny niggling problem. The country’s local residents themselves prefer taking a plane to the real deal in Bangkok, leaving doctors in Dubai red faced.

Why the UAE Loses Patients to Medical Tourism in Thailand

There are many reasons why local Arabs prefer medical treatment abroad to their own home country, and cost isn’t the dominant factor. Even wealthy locals in the UAE are renowned for making little “medical trips” to Thailand for procedures ranging from elective or cosmetic surgery and life saving procedures to chemical peels. The general quality of health services in the UAE, many complain, is of a low standard, which has led many to lose faith in their country’s healthcare system. Plus, a vacation in the land of Buddhas and brothels provides enough recreation options to make a little holiday of it. Last year alone, an estimated 70,000 UAE locals traveled to Thailand for medical treatment, and those in power at Dubai Healthcare City aren’t amused.

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While locals earlier preferred to travel westward for medical treatment, 9/11 and a changed global dynamic meant that Arabs had to find other “less hostile” environments to take care of their life saving procedures and elective surgeries. For a lot of locals, price wasn’t much of an issue, and the low cost of a chemical peel or heart valve replacement wasn’t the only reason sheiks were streaming into Bangkok. Hospitals like Bumrungrad were quick to woo the moneyed Arab traveler and went about furnishing their premises to make him extremely comfortable. Halal food found its way into the menu, and Bumrungrad’s already sumptuous surroundings were accessorized with prayer rugs and compasses that pointed to Mecca.

Dubai’s health care authorities desperately hope that the new Healthcare City will coax locals to have their surgery at home. With gorgeous Thailand offering more than just low cost, sophisticated medical treatment, and the kind of fawning personalized hospital care that no retinue of personal servants could match, they’re going to have some major competition on their hands!

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