Growth of medical tourism in Dubai

Medical tourism is when a person travels to another country for medical care[1]. Key factors driving medical tourism are lower costs, better quality of care, lower waiting times, availing unavailable or unapproved procedures, incorporating local therapies (e.g., Yoga / Naturopathy / Chinese medicine), cultural reasons (e.g., to receive care from a healthcare provider who shares the traveller’s culture and language), recreational reasons with people seeking medical care abroad along with enjoying a vacation (likely for elective procedures such as cosmetic surgeries). Medical tourists who seek that added layer of privacy can find it abroad.

Dubai is fast becoming a leading destination for medical tourism, both regionally and globally. The Emirate ranked 13th out of the 46 global destinations rated within the 2020-2021 Medical Tourism Index[2]  due to various factors:

  • Significant jump in private healthcare investments in building state-of-the-art medical infrastructure
  • Quality of care with many hospitals being internationally accredited, e.g., with JCI
  • Many Government initiatives to promote medical tourism e.g.,
  • In April 2014, Dubai Health Tourism Strategy was approved, with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) overseeing its execution
  • Launch of “Dubai Health Experience” (DXH)- the world’s first medical tourism portal, where visitors can book appointments with doctors and plan their medical itineraries
  • Dubai’s strategic location with the Emirate being a four-hour flight away for one-third of the world’s population and an eight-hour flight for two-thirds of the world’s population making travel convenient for medical care seekers
  • Presence of multilingual medical and support teams in many healthcare facilities
  • UAE Government’s initiatives to curb the spread of Covid-19 by implementing various precautionary measures, increasing use of telehealth, successful re-opening of borders and the Emirate’s high vaccination rate

The number of medical tourists have been growing significantly in Dubai and the Emirate aims to achieve its goal of attracting 500,000 medical tourists by the end of 2021, supported by Expo 2020 and the continued development of the healthcare sector[3].

Dentistry, orthopaedics, dermatology, and fertility treatment are the top specialities attracting health tourists to Dubai with tourists spending ~AED1.2 billion in health tourism. The majority of patients come from following regions:

  • Arab and GCC countries with top nationalities being Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman (~33%)
  • Asia with India, and Pakistan being the top Asian countries (~30%)
  • Europe with top countries being UK, France, and Italy (~16%)

At the same time, some patients are traveling abroad from Dubai to seek medical care mainly for Oncology, advanced paediatric care etc. However, overall patients travelling overseas from Dubai has decreased at a significant rate (~29% decrease per annum between 2015 and 2019) because of expanding medical facilities in Dubai.

Going forward, Dubai is expected to be ready to offer elective health and wellness treatments to medical tourists and is expected to consolidate its position as one of the major medical tourism destinations in the world.

[1] CDC definition
[2], JLL- Healthcare Research and Analysis
[3] DHA Annual Report, Dubai chamber of commerce and industry, JLL- Healthcare Research and Analysis
10 October, 2021 | .By Mashreq in Knowledge Partnership with JLL