Arabian Gulf citizens spend an estimated Dh91.8 billion a year for treatment abroad with medical tourism picking up in countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore, according to Grant Thornton's 2009 Healthcare Guide report. Dubai is looking to harness its competitive prices, infrastructure and tax free environment and put itself on the map as a medical tourist destination.
Dr Jaffer Khan, Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at the Medical International Specialist Centre in Jumeirah, is currently in the midst of launching a company called Aesthetics International, which will attract top surgeons to Dubai for a period of time to offer their services at competitive prices.
"As a concept this place is amazing for something like this. Dubai has the right formula. Customers will travel here because it's cheaper and skilled surgeons will travel here because they will not be taxed on the work they do. Because of this, we can afford to be competitive," Dr Khan explains.
Compared to the US and UK, costs for procedures are about 20 to 25 per cent lower, says Dr Sanjay Parashar, a specialist plastic surgeon at the Cocoona Centre for Aesthetic Transformation.
"We get most of our medical tourists coming from places like US and UK because it's less expensive than the West. There are also a number of clients coming in from India and Pakistan because of the confidentiality factor, particularly for celebrities. Also there is no major language barrier her and the infrastructure is almost as good as anywhere in the West," says Dr Parashar.
The International Society of Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) which has a health tourism committee is currently liaising with an international insurance agency so Aesthetics International will be able to give the health tourists in cosmetic surgery an insurance cover as long as they are being operated on ISAPS credited facilities. Patients who fly into Dubai for a procedure will be covered until they are fully recovered from the surgery.
"This will be a first, and we're hoping to launch it in San Fransisco in August. By introducing this insurance we will take away the biggest negative point of medical tourism and where most of the complications occur. We'll be able to have better credited facilities, to offer back up, post op care and post operation," says Dr Khan.
Zeina Al Haj, founder of Image Concept Dubai Inc, a Dubai-based company specialising in cosmetic tourism to Lebanon, says that many people choose to get procedures done in nearby Lebanon as costs can be anything between 30 to 50 per cent cheaper than in Dubai.
"Our packages are customised to the individual and based on the demand of the client. The most popular are nose jobs, weight loss procedures and breast augmentations. We take care of the medical booking and the tourism part, which includes travel, hotels, tours and transport. According to the promotion of the moment we try to offer them additional things like free facials etc."
Their customer base is in the Gulf but they get requests from different countries, such as Egypt, the UK and Australia.
While many opt to travel abroad for cheaper procedures, Al Haj says she does get clients inquiring about procedures within Dubai.
"Dubai is growing and has a strong chance to compete with neighbouring medical tourism destinations. It's a great tourist destination and on the medical front, the facilities that Dubai has started to introduce in the last three years have increased. They just need to push their marketing and encourage a stable medical industry," said Al Haj.