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UAE gives patients value for money

Skilled surgeons, top standards and patient safety at one fourth the price of hospitals in the West is making UAE a popular medical destination

Gulf News

Dubai: What does a patient in the UAE — resident or tourist — opting for a surgical procedure look for? Usually, it’s best practices, internationally acceptable outcomes, highly skilled super-specialists and high standards of hygiene and patient safety.

All this at one fourth of the price quoted in hospitals in western countries. The maths adds up, providing an insight into why the UAE is fast turning into the most popular health-care destination in the region. For instance, a prostate surgery in the US costs Dh39,000, Dh32,000 in the UK, Dh20,000 in Thailand and Dh17,000 in Malaysia. In the UAE, it costs between Dh15,000 and Dh29,000.

The following are the ways in which the UAE has managed to draw up an impressive medical rate card that attracts medical tourists and residents alike from far and near. 

Providing a medical alternative

After 9/11, a $20 billion annual revenue that the US earned from medical tourists from the Mena region suddenly shifted to countries like Germany in Europe and Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan in the Far East.

Realising the growing medical needs of tourists from this region, the UAE has been focusing on medical tourism since 2007 when it also began the initial discussion on mandatory medical insurance.

Mandatory insurance has brought in healthy competition in the private sector which aims to cover the large expatriate population, which is now seeking to get the best medical facilities in the UAE under insurance. Private hospitals are looking to work out the best prices with expertise and high medical standards comparable with the best in the world.

Most private health-care investors are now looking to capture the large market potential from Russia, CIS countries, countries of West Africa and stem the medical traffic from the Middle East to the Far East, The UAE has put in huge sums of money to establish world-class standards in health care and is already attracting a regular traffic of patients from the Mena region.

“For medical tourism to be successful, health care and hospitality have to work hand in hand,” says Dr Raza Siddiqi, executive director of Arabian Healthcare Group that runs the successful RAK Hospital which attracts around 100,000 international patients annually for a variety of procedures. 

Low overheads mean lower rates

Dr Siddiqi says, “Pricing and international benchmarks are two important aspects of providing medical care. We are able to deliver medical outcomes that are comparable to those in the US and UK at one fourth the price. How does this work? In the UK and the US, the cost of land, construction, equipment, manpower cost and consumables is four times more compared to this region,” he says.

When it comes to manpower, Dr Sidiqqi says their cost is quite high for doctors, but other manpower costs are much less. “For instance, a nurse who earns a salary of Dh7,000 here would cost the health-care system in the US and UK much more. Their overheads are high, so their cost is high. In addition, hospitals in the UK and the US have to bear the huge burden of cost for medical research which is supported by revenues of the hospital.” On the other hand, medical research in the UAE, he said, will take time to be established. 

Logistics

Every hospital looking to attract international medical tourists in the UAE is ready with its rate card and has worked out the logistics of medical care that measures up to international standards.

Riaz Khan, general manager of Prime Hospital, of the Prime Healthcare Group, Dubai, explains: “Prime Hospital has worked towards the creation of a completely CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) coded price list without any duplicates. (The CPT coding system adopted by the American Medical Association offers doctors across the country a uniform system that streamlines the reporting process and increases efficiency. Physicians and other qualified health-care professionals have used CPT to communicate with colleagues, patients, hospitals and insurers about the procedures they have performed).

“We formed a committee for determination of the price list which was headed by our managing director, Dr Jameel Ahmad, who took inputs from the Dubai market, opinions of surgeons and from international benchmarks. The committee deliberated for almost two months before finalising the price list for surgeries.” 

Policy of inclusion

Health authorities work closely with health-care professionals in the market to be able to make important decisions on pricing and policies.

One of the most important steps taken by the health-care authorities in Dubai is the introduction of the policy of inclusion wherein all the leading health-care groups are invited to an exclusive medical tourism club to deliberate on the course of action, the specialities to be promoted, countries that would be potential markets and the marketing and branding strategy. All of this ultimately helps the cause of augmenting medical tourism.

Let’s take a look at the UAE fares on pricing for medical procedures compared with the US, UK, Thailand and Malaysia.

Two hospitals, Prime and RAK Hospital, shared their medical rate cards for some challenging and common procedures that patients usually come here for.

Patients speak

Isaac, 37, flew in from Nigeria with combined mitral and tricuspid valve insufficiency. He underwent an operation on March 6 at RAK Hospital for double valve replacement, on-pump, extubated on day two and has made a complete recovery.

“In Nigeria, the chances of my survival seemed slim as doctors told me I was going to die. I was exploring places where I could go for surgery. India seemed one option as I was told it was quite inexpensive. Then my research showed that UAE was a better option. I chose RAK Hospital because it had skilled surgeons and also had quality care offered at a very reasonable price. My surgery was very tricky and it is evident that I am doing well as I am able to talk with a big smile for this interview just three days after my surgery. I am extremely satisfied with all aspects — care, compassion, proficiency — everyone from the doorman to the CEO is personally involved.” 

Jackie Panjabi: A long-time resident and prominent businessman, Jackie Panjabi had never opted for any surgeries in the UAE. “I always consulted surgeons and doctors in Hong Kong where I had the opportunity of living earlier. But when I had a sharp shooting pain in my abdomen during my visit to the US and the doctors there could find nothing wrong, suspecting it to be a case of appendicitis and later ruling it out, I had to consult a good doctor here in the UAE.”

Panjabi consulted Dr V.K. Singhal at Prime Hospital who diagnosed it as inguinal hernia (a protrusion in the iguinal canal in the anterior abdomen wall) and subsequently I underwent surgery for it.

“This was the first time I had surgery in Dubai and I must say I felt in safe hands. I was comfortable with the impeccable service and high medical standards. What really touched me was the very humane and empathetic behaviour of the entire medical team,” said Panjabi, who gave full marks to the skills of the surgeon and the excellent services of the nursing staff.

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