ME capitalising on medical market


RISING healthcare costs and increasing procedure waiting times in Europe, America and Asia, has led the Middle East to be in a prime position to establish itself as a world class, cost effective alternative destination for the booming medical tourism market, says a leading industry expert.

To achieve a global reputation of medical excellence and affordability, Jonathan Edelheit, president of the Medical Tourism Association, believes the region must continue to foster an environment that is increasingly favourable for the healthcare sector’s private operators.
“It is important for Middle East governments to continue creating an increased role for the private healthcare sector as it has the skill set and resources to help build more hospitals, implement high levels of quality care and establish infrastructure much faster than the public sector. This is a key factor is establishing the region as a sought after destination for medical tourists,” said Edelheit.
According to Edelheit - who is part of the seminar speaker line up for Reed Travel Exhibitions’ Arabian Travel Market 2008, the global medical tourism industry could grow up to ten fold over the next two years, representing a dynamic business opportunity for the Middle East.
With regional governments actively increasing their efforts to woo high end medical providers, such as Abu Dhabi’s association with the Cleveland Clinic and John Hopkins Medicine and Dubai aligning with Harvard Medical International, Edelheit believes the region is making important strides in raising its medical operating standards to international levels.
“Medical tourism is growing exponentially every year especially with more and more patients travelling overseas for urgent and cosmetic care. I believe the key issues going forward will be whether the Middle East can market itself successfully to an international audience and, as a result, build a “brand” reputation for premium, affordable healthcare,” said Edelheit.
“There is a growing trend of blue chip medical companies setting up regional operations. These partnerships are very important and help new hospitals and healthcare entities put the right processes in place prior to building the hospital, which helps ensure the highest quality of care possible and attracts overseas consultations.”
Another issue facing the Middle East is the current outbound flow of medical tourism to other countries in the West and Asia, which results in a large loss of locally generated revenue for hospitals.
This outbound flow is clearly illustrated in a recent statement, outlining how approximately 62,000 UAE nationals alone sought medical treatment in Thai hospitals in the first seven months of 2006.
However, Edelheit predicts that as more high quality facilities are established regionally and a greater number of healthcare professionals are brought in, the Middle East should invariably turn the tide of medical tourism inwards.
“More hospital facilities, developing new hospitals with the highest quality of care and importing expert doctors and surgeons are critical to the region retaining residents’ for medical procedures and consultations. It is important to show them they will get a higher level of care locally than if they leave the country,” added Edelheit.
Edelheit, a speaker at the ATM, will give a detailed industry overview to delegates from across the globe in his seminar Introduction to Medical Tourism - Medical Tourism and the emerging industry of global healthcare.
“Medical tourism is a hot topic for the global travel and tourism industry and we felt it was one issue that needed to be addressed in detail at the show. For Arabian Travel Market, we have strived to bring together many of the world-wide industry’s top speakers to discuss and debate key trends and developments affecting an increasing global populace,” said Simon Press, exhibition director, ATM.