he UAE has an amended visa policy with new options for medical tourists. Under the new rules, a medical treatment visa costs Dhs550, with a multiple entry visa priced at Dhs1400 and a visa for a patient’s escort also priced at Dhs1400. The move is part of the UAE’s and specifically Dubai’s strategy to become a major medical tourism destination. The introduction of the new visas is a positive step towards the fulfilment of the target of half a million medical tourists by 2020.
The UAE has an amended visa policy with new options for medical tourists. Under the new rules, a medical treatment visa costs Dhs550, with a multiple entry visa priced at Dhs1400 and a visa for a patient’s escort also priced at Dhs1400.
The move is part of the UAE’s and specifically Dubai’s strategy to become a major medical tourism destination. The introduction of the new visas is a positive step towards the fulfilment of the target of half a million medical tourists by 2020.
The visas will also help in measuring the number of medical tourists entering the UAE (from countries that require visas), which in turn can help support future planning and improvement in the emirate’s medical tourism offerings.
The change may not have that great an impact, as critics argue that it was already very easy to get a visa, for those who can afford to travel to Dubai, so much of the change is merely cosmetic.
Dubai Health Authority is about to launch the first batch of medical tourism packages for overseas patients, which cover treatment costs, visa, accommodation and recreational activities for families who accompany the patient. Hospitals that wish to participate are evaluated and need to pass stringent verification.
The DHA plans to build 22 hospitals including 18 private and four public hospitals in the next few years to support the hoped for high volumes of medical tourists. The authority will also be launching a dedicated website for medical tourism later this year.
Dubai argues that the UAE’s strategic location between the East and the West, can help the country compete with traditionally strong medical tourism markets across the world, including cheaper destinations in Asia, such as Thailand and Singapore.
The main challenge for Dubai is that is more expensive than Asian rivals. DHA argues that it can counter this by promoting the Dubai brand, supplementary attractions and better facilities.
Dubai is attracting medical tourists from other countries. The DHCC suggests that most patients come from Libya, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Tunisia and Djibouti. Critics point out that Libya, Iran and Iraq are suffering from wars and internal conflict, so the increase may be short term; The Nigerian government has stated that it wishes to stop outbound medical tourism. Patient flow from the smaller African countries is not going to fill the existing hospitals, let alone the new ones.
Despite the development of Dubai Healthcare City, competing medical travel destinations report a steady increase in business not just from the wider UAE, but from Dubai itself, with many patients funded by government bodies. Dubai must persuade its own citizens and residents to trust the quality and prices in DHCC to support the credibility of the latest medical tourism initiative. Dubai will need to reverse the outbound medical tourism trend, and fill the gaps in highly specialised facilities, such as brain surgery, robotic heart surgery, and specialised oncology surgery.
Many doctors are from overseas, working on short and medium term assignments. With a small local population, it is difficult to generate the throughput of cases that some specialists need to hone and improve their skills and to justify a high spend on specialist equipment. As a result, the focus is on “low-tech” medical tourism for patients seeking services such as cosmetic surgery and health checks. For surgeons and doctors, tax advantages mean that Dubai is an attractive work location, but some may fear that their skills may fall behind their equivalents at home due to the nature of their caseload.