x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Dubai Healthcare City to compete for foreign patients

Dubai Healthcare City plans to expand its tertiary care to cement itself as an international competitor in medicine.

DUBAI // Although foreign patients at Dubai Healthcare City tend to seek elective procedures, the hospital's managing director says it needs to build up in other areas to compete internationally.

"In the long term, what we really want to do is provide high-end tertiary care so that we can compete with the regional players," said Dr Ayesha Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar are all noted for their high-end medical services.

To keep pace, DHCC plans to add centres for oncology, genetic disorders and diabetes within five years.

"We want to focus on gaps we have on services, for example rehab, paediatrics and integrated medicine," Dr Abdullah said. "These are the areas we want to be able to expand, which will all feed into medical tourism."

According to the Genetic Diseases Association, bone marrow transplants and advanced forms of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis are among the services currently not available. Patients are usually sent to Saudi Arabia or Jordan for those types of treatment.

Dr Sara Alom, an assistant director at Al Noor Hospital, said while there was intense medical competition in the region, it was the tourism aspect that set the UAE apart.

"When it comes to this, we don't compete," Dr Alom said.

"A good starting point for us would be targeting neighbouring GCC countries and relatives of those who are visiting. It would be too ambitious for us to say that people are going to travel all the way from the US or the UK today just for medical tourism. It does happen but it's not very popular."

One reason westerners seek treatment in the Emirates is the easy availability of appointments, Dr Abdullah said.

"Even in countries like the UK that have socialised medicine, patients often find the waiting time inconvenient and if they consider going to the private sector, treatment is very expensive," she said. "Cost is a factor but it is not the most important factor, because there will always be places that are cheaper than the UAE. What counts at the end of the day is value for money."

Elizabeth Ransan, 53, said she scheduled a trip to the UAE after waiting two months to receive knee-replacement surgery. She had requested an appointment through the National Health Service in the UK, which provides free public health care to all residents.

"My sister is [in Dubai] so I have a place to stay, and the cost of the ticket will make up the difference should I have decided to go to a private hospital in the UK," she said. "The only difference is I don't have to wait, so it just made sense."

Waiting time seems to be a common denominator among patients from the UK. However, Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the UK situation had improved considerably.

"About 10 years ago, waiting one year for a hip replacement would be considered normal," he said. "Now, it would be unusual for someone to wait more than three months."

mismail@thenational.ae