ABU DHABI // The first dedicated facility for attracting medical tourists to the capital will open on Saadiyat Island next month.
The United States-based DNA Centre for Integrative Medicine and Wellness, which specialises in treating guests based on their individual genetic profiles, is part of a larger vision by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) to make the emirate a hub for health and wellness tourism regionally and internationally.
"We have a list of several well-known hospitals that want to bring their services to Abu Dhabi for medical tourism and we are welcoming them," said Mubarak Al Nuaimi, director of promotion and overseas offices at the TCA.
"Many of them would like to be on an island to enhance the experience of their patients, and Abu Dhabi is the perfect location."
The TCA sees the most demand for natural and alternative therapies, integrative medicine and orthopaedics.
The DNA Centre is the first step towards that vision coming to life.
The centre screens patients for their genetic profile before they even arrive at the facility. It also introduces the concept of functional medicine, where clinicians address the cause of a condition rather than the condition itself.
Blood samples are taken at various collection points around the world and scanned for up to 35 biomarkers that can determine risks for chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Clinicians will also measure a patient's physiological age profile - an assessment of chronological age versus biological age. This is determined through measurements of skin turgor, calcification of the heart and bone density, among other things. Those measurements are compared year on year to determine if one is ageing properly or too quickly.
The variety of specialists, the time patients can spend with each one and the tailored plans work together to provide personalised care, said Dr Nasim Achraf, an integrative medicine consultant and chairman of DNA Health Corp, the centre's parent company.
"Each guest will get to spend six hours with the doctors just for the physical examinations. These days, even if you're a new a patient, you're lucky if a doctor gives you undivided attention for 30-minutes," he said. "The patient will tell their story and each doctor will listen to it from their perspective."
Patients engage in a 90-minute consultation with a team of doctors, including an internist, a chiropractic physician and an integrative medicine consultant, and a life plan is developed based on the findings. Nutritionists also work with chefs at the guest's hotel to develop individualised meal plans according to their health needs.
Guests can choose a two-day or four-day package that includes a stay at the neighbouring Park Hyatt or St Regis hotels. A three-month package, where patients visit every two weeks, is also available.
The service is not within everyone's reach with the least expensive package starting at US$7,500 (Dh27,915). As with most preventive medicine, it is not covered by insurance.
The centre hopes to attract GCC patients, then slowly expand to other regions. Saadiyat Island was chosen as a pristine location away from the bustle of the city, Mr Al Nuaimi said, which is meant to add to a patient's healing experience.
"People can use the beach, breath fresh air and relax," he said. "The point is that they both receive the quality medical treatment and experience the emirate as a tourist, so that people don't come here feeling like they are just a patient in a hospital."
Long-term plans by the TCA include developing medical tourist visas, where hospitals would sponsor patients who are coming in for invasive procedures. But this will only be done once the industry is well established, Mr Al Nuaimi said.
"Before the patient comes to Abu Dhabi, they will need to send a medical report to immigration and the hospital would sponsor their stay," he said. "Now with most people coming from the GCC, this is not always necessary. We will look into this as more people visit from other countries."
The TCA is in talks to bring another reputable US hospital to Abu Dhabi for the purpose of medical tourism.
"Medical tourism will definitely add value to the emirate as more people will want to visit for longer periods of time," he said. "We want Abu Dhabi to be the destination for business, medicine and leisure."