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Arab Market is expanding constantly: which trends are Arab patients following? How Italy and European countries can meet their need? To these questions will answer Rania Kimrakji, Founder and Managing Director of Royalty Consultants. 

What is the situation of the Arab market in terms of Incoming and Outgoing in Medical Tourism?  How is this market evolving, in particular in the UAE?

“Despite having potential in its state of art medical infrastructure, technology most of the Gulf Corporation Countries and other Arab countries lose tens of millions on its nationals spend annually on medical treatment abroad. The UAE. healthcare sector is expanding rapidly to meet both the evolving needs of a growing population and the nation’s ambition to become a regional medical tourism hub. This rapid expansion is challenging the ability of the UAE to both provide adequate medical personnel and contain costs. However, UAE government entities have adopted a series of long-term initiatives, above all UAE Vision 2021, to address these challenges and guide the sustainable growth of this sector. The generous investment in private healthcare enables the emergence of highly differentiated and specialized services and the recruitment of reputable clinical operators that conform to the highest of standards, thereby raising the overall quality of healthcare. UAE has state of the art infrastructure and technology, and the Government continues its generous support to force significant potential to grow more given its close proximity and connectivity, cultural affinity, attractiveness as a tourism destination and growing perception as a high-quality healthcare services hub. The UAE healthcare system is focusing on developing numerous centers of excellence in areas such as rehabilitation, cosmetology, neurology and cardiology which will help attract more medical tourists from the MENA region and other parts of the world. The price package and acceptance of global insurance networks should be an area of prime focus increasing the attractiveness and ease of medical travel for patients. UAE and Dubai specifically is in the process of becoming the center of excellence in medical tourism across MENA region as a leading medical tourism destination, with the number of inbound medical tourists from outside of the U.A.E. growing to approximately 300,000 in 2015 from approximately 107,000 in 2012 and with 500,000by 2020. Patients come from the MENA region, CIS countries, Russia, China and parts of Africa, seeking wide range of specialized health services, the most popular of which include orthopedics, ophthalmology, dental care and check-ups.”

What are Arab patients mainly looking for in terms of medical specialties? Which are their favorite destinations and why?

“The governments in the region have been funding a lot of their population going overseas for advanced medical treatment because of a lack of facilities in the region.But since 2016 GCC government budgets are coming under increasing pressure amid falling oil prices, as a result, governments across the region are curtailing spending on healthcare and the private sector is ramping up prices. The choice of a medical provider by a consumer is complex and now the GCC is very considerate when choosing the right destination as he could be obliged to share expenses with his supporting government depending on his medical condition.

The most needed treatments overseas for prospective medical tourists are wide, including:

  • Oncology
  • Cardiology/cardiac surgery (by-pass, valve replacement)
  • Orthopedic surgery (hip replacement, resurfacing, knee replacement, joint surgery)
  • Bariatric surgery (gastric by-pass, gastric banding)
  • Fertility/reproductive system (IVF, gender reassignment)
  • Organ, cell and tissue transplantation (organ transplantation; stem cell)
  • Eye surgery
  • Diagnostics and check-ups, second opinion…
  • Wellness and rehabilitation

Collectively, not all of these treatments would be classed as acute and life-threatening and some are clearly more marginal to mainstream health care. Patient empowerment is motivated by a need to find high quality medical services for Reasons care, expertise as well as avoiding long waiting lists and dodging questions from colleagues and family and an add on factor nature and weather for rehab… Singapore, Korea, UK, USA, Germany or India, Thailand, Malaysia are the most popular for Arab patients, but they always follow the most possible medical treatment anywhere available in the world.”

What is the perception of Italy as a Medical Tourism destination in the main Arab markets? What could ease Arab patients to choose Italy?

“We are unable to give a number, but Italy is not known, or familiar as a medical tourism destination like Spain, UK, France or Germany, and promoting efforts focusing on its best practice treatments …Italy need to market its facilities and wellness destination as much as they market for their touristic arenas, food and fashion. The aim is to make it easier for consumers to choose a hospital, understand the quality of care they deliver and enhance the healthcare system to deliver better care, ultimately resulting in a healthier population. When evaluating alternative destinations, Arab medical tourists reject destinations that they perceive as providing an inadequate quality of care. Arabs already choose Italy for their vacations, but when it comes to medical and wellness they would prefer to go well known countries with specialized treatments widely known for as they are not familiar with Italian medical sector as much!”

Cultural and religious differences are some of the main attentions to consider when dealing with Arab patients.

“Cultural differences affect patients’ attitudes about medical care and their ability to understand, manage, and cope with the course of an illness, the meaning of a diagnosis, and the consequences of medical treatment. In simple language, cultural diversity can be understood in many different ways. Language brier can be solved by hiring a Translator could help to bridge the outcome which minimizes gaps, understanding and building awareness, avoiding any miscommunication or misunderstanding arising from cultural disbeliefs and providing more positive results with a higher satisfaction rate.  Most of the Arabs to Travel are sophisticated and well-travelled people and they would seek a distention for the treatment companied with reputable hospitality and respect their culture and religion. (Halal) literally means permissible, a term covers and designates food and drink as well as matters of daily life, but they can always find alternatives during travel , or Medical facilitates can  always outsource such food and drink products from their local Muslim communities. As more Middle Eastern patients flock to Thailand for treatments and procedures, there is an increasingly growing need for specialized travel agents who not only understand the medical aspect, but are also emphatic toward an Arab medical tourist’s culture and traditions.  For example, the facilitator must understand and take into account that Arab women must comply with culture specifics like accompaniment by another female during a physical examination with a male doctor and make the proper arrangements accordingly.”

What role do they play in the choice of the Medical Tourism destination?

“Educating healthcare providers and patients is a bilateral process. This will eventually bring comprehensive solutions for issues that arise from cultural diversity to key cultural challenges arising from geographies, languages, religion, societies, beliefs, customs, traditions, and individual perceptions.”


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