Dubai has carved a niche for itself on the map of global greats in all aspects, including medical tourism. We spoke with Dr. Layla Al Marzouqi, Director of Health Regulation and the Dubai Medical Tourism Project who explained the challenges and the opportunities in making Dubai a global medical tourism hub.
Q. What are some core reasons that make UAE an international and regional hub for medical tourism?
Dr. Marzouqi: For the UAE in general and Dubai specifically, there’s several reasons actually: the stability, the safety, and the air connectivity. We have two gigantic airlines–Emirates and Etihad plus the other airlines Fly Dubai and Air Arabia. This will give easy access to the country plus there are 32 nationalities that don’t require a visa for entry so that’s another plus point. On top of that, we already have 20 million visitors a year coming here. Also, we already have the infrastructure for attracting both the tourists and investors in the medical field. The tallest building, the biggest mall in the world, the tram and metro; people know about Dubai and have heard about Dubai. These will make the UAE and specifically Dubai a hub for medical tourism.
Then if we put all of this in the tourism basket and add medical to this, what we can say is that we have very niche services we provide, healthcare facilities to meet the needs of people at all levels, and healthcare providers from 110 different nationalities. In Dubai we say we speak your language; you will find a healthcare professional that speaks your language here. Plus, now some of the hospitals are providing five-star hospitality with translators in their facilities; so for example, if a patient is from Nigeria, they have a translator to help this person and even a special menu for the food they prefer. Therefore, we are culture sensitive to the needs of not whom we refer to as our patients but whom we refer to as our guests. We accommodate their needs and their family’s needs. Moreover, the quality of healthcare is strictly regulated to ensure everyone in the Emirate receives internationally recognized quality healthcare.
Q. How safe is Dubai for medical tourists seeking out treatment and/or medical procedures?
Dr. Marzouqi: Healthcare is never one hundred percent safe anywhere in the world and no one can guarantee this. Complications can happen and medical errors can also happen. But we reduce it as much as possible so though it’s not completely preventable, it certainly is reducible.
We have a very clear and transparent way of dealing with medical error if it were to happen. We publish our data so medical tourists have a portal to go to view the complaints and they know there is a government body behind this. They can write to us– our channels are open with 24-hour hotlines. If a medical tourist goes home and if there is a case, there is often no need to come back. We have started our ‘e-investigation’ branch which can be done through Skype calling unless the committee wants to examine the patient then they can come back to Dubai to make it easier for the patient. This does not mean medical error is high in Dubai—no–but that we are transparent and have the talent and experience in case something goes wrong. Plus, we have introduced insurance for the medical tourist which is very unique and Dubai always does everything in a unique way. This once again does not mean things go wrong in Dubai but this is an extra bit of assurance we give our medical tourists who come here. In case something goes wrong after an operation or a medical procedure, if you have this insurance, the insurance company will bring you back to Dubai within a one-month time frame and take the expense on their shoulders; they pay for the tickets for you and a family member in case something went wrong. So what this means is that the system is strong and quality
measures are in place and patient safety is a priority.
Q. What are some key changes that have taken place in medical tourism in Dubai within the last 10 years?
Dr. Marzouqi: In Dubai, 10 years is too long. So from 2012 to 2015, there was a mutation in medical tourism in Dubai. It was a huge jump. From 2012 we had 107K medical tourists and in 2015, in just the first quarter alone there were 250K medical tourists for our 16 hospitals. The reason we only have 16 hospitals is because we want quality kind of data to be presented to decision makers that is of the utmost quality and which is validatable. We’ve gone through a lot, introduced our medical visa packages, our club, medical insurance, our branding, and our website. We won two prestigious awards and today in this event, we won our third. In May 2015, we won an award in ‘Innovation in Medical Tourism’ in Greece, in September we won an award in Dubai as ‘Medical Destination of the Year’.
Q. You have been an official body in the Government since 2012 yet you have made so much progress in three Years alone. Please talk about this.
Dr. Marzouqi: I have been in charge of this project for the past one year; the insurance, the club and the awards have happened in this time. The team before me had worked on the visas and the packages. Dubai is already a hub for medical tourism. Everyone knows about Dubai. Our market targets GCC, people from CIS countries as well as Africa who are coming to Dubai. Our goal is to make Dubai the fastest growing city in medical tourism in the region and number 15 worldwide. In fact, the other award we got this year in October was from the Medical Tourism Association in the US who ranked Dubai as number 17 worldwide for medical tourism. So we are not far from the number 15 ranking and we
may actually have to change our ranking objective.
Q What role is the expo 2020 expected to play on medical tourism?
Dr. Marzouqi: Expo 2020 is an opportunity for everyone and medical tourism is no different. That’s why the DHA with their strategic plan are already planning how many beds, healthcare professionals, and the number of nurses and doctors we will need by then and we are trying to encourage investment in the UAE. We want to have more beds and more medical facilities but in an organized manner whereby quality is not compromised. This is why we issue certificates of need for healthcare professionals, facilities and services that come into the UAE. The fact is that whatever Dubai takes on board, it always does in a very unique way. Our awards speak for themselves.
Dr. Layla Al Marzouqi
Director of Health Regulation and
Dubai Medical Tourism Project