OUTLOOK — By Haider Al Lawati — The number of Arabs, especially wealthy GCC nationals, seeking medical treatment abroad is on the rise despite the existence of some of the finest hospitals in GCC states. Yet, patients will always seek the highest quality medical treatment no matter what the price is.
Nowadays, millions of patients around the world are looking for treatments that ease their pain or give them hope for a cure even if it requires them to travel thousands of miles and leave their homes to receive the desired medical treatment. Medical tourism has become a major source of income for some countries around the world. It creates job opportunities for their citizens and supports tourism. In the past years, several Arab countries have started providing medical treatment for GCC nationals.
However, some foreign countries like Thailand and Malaysia, are now allocating annual budgets for medical institutions to provide scholarship for their students to study medicine in Arab countries, learn the Arabic language to easily attend to Arab patients in the future. This caused an influx of GCC nationals to those countries during the past decade, besides India in order to benefit from the medical services they offer.
Moreover, thousands of GCC nationals travel to developed countries, such as Germany, USA, Britain, etc., to get advanced medical care and treatment for different ailments.
Medical tourism facilitates receiving health and tourism services in the host country. It provides guarantees and helps reassure patients about the quality of services offered in the various treatments that they seek. In addition, the availability of medical insurance in some countries helps some patients to travel abroad for proper treatment, while the launch of nonstop flights by many airlines has played a major role in promoting medical tourism around the world.
Last but not least, advanced global communications and the Internet have made it easier for patients to finalise their travel arrangements before arriving for diagnosis and treatment in the foreign country.
Today, several countries worldwide are offering advanced medical services for tourists, such as USA, Germany, Canada, Britain, Australia, part of the Middle East and East Asian countries including India, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and others.
Generally speaking, medical tourism is a branch of tourism that involves travelling abroad for treatment and recuperation in health resorts. It also involves treatment in specialised clinics, medical centres or modern hospitals that provide state-of-the-art medical equipment and highly-qualified staff.
Therapeutic or health tourism is also available in many parts of the world. It depends on natural elements in to treat and possibly cure certain skin and bone diseases, ie, rheumatism. Patients can choose between relaxing in the mineral, sulphur and hot springs and lakes, basking in the sunshine or indulging in the sands of Indonesia, Jordan and many other countries.
The Sultanate is blessed with such natural elements and can be utilised in attracting those who seek health tourism. Furthermore, there are clinics specialising in the treatment of drug addiction and mental illnesses where patients can be admitted for as long as it takes for them to receive the necessary treatment.
These facilities spurred an influx of patients from GCC countries to travel to these countries to receive various medical treatments. Although some countries do not announce annual statistics on the number of arrivals for tourism and medical treatment from GCC countries, others publish information on the number of patients flocking for medical tourism.
In Germany, for instance, official statistics show that about 77,000 patients from 178 countries received treatment in Germany in 2010. These statistics also confirm that the healthcare system in Germany ranks second in Europe and is considered one of the most regulated, advanced and innovative systems in the world due to the unique cooperation between science, research, industry and hospitals along with the availability of strong infrastructure, highly-qualified staff and advanced medical technology. To make the most of these facilities, German institutions are making the effort to support their promotional campaigns in GCC and other countries to support medical tourism.
Overall, the increase in patients flocking from around the world to countries that offer high quality medical tourism is attributed to several factors, including their global competitiveness in the medical field and excellence in technology and biomedical engineering. Moreover, these countries have the best universities, science centres, medical laboratories and university hospitals, not to mention a strong medical infrastructure able to handle patients who wish to stay for prolonged periods for treatment.
Therefore, patients who can afford medical treatment in these countries and may wish to avail the services of medical tourism arrive with the hope of receiving top quality healthcare at the hands of experienced physicians, not medical students or trainees. Patients also seek clinics that strictly adhere to medical ethics and are transparent and honest in providing information on the required treatments to avoid distress and confusion. Some patients complain of some clinics and hospitals taking advantage of their financial situation by ordering unnecessary and expensive checkups and X-rays.
Such complaints often come from different countries to which GCC nationals often travel. It is essential that officials at those health centres put these points in a booklet or a brochure and distribute it to patients in the first visit to the doctor to enable them to make the right decisions regarding their required treatment.