Recent studies have estimated medical tourism to be worth around $100 billion worldwide annually. Currently, medical tourism in the UAE is worth $1.6 billion, most of it derived from Dubai. The government of Dubai has identified the medical tourism industry as a key component of its economic development plans, and has ambitious plans to position itself to attract a major share of this $100 billion industry.

Dubai has positioned itself well in the region, and has leveraged its comparative advantages, such as its innovative healthcare industry, connectivity, and well-qualified medical personnel. Dubai ranks 17th out of 25 countries in the world engaging in medical tourism, the 7th in Asia, and the 2nd in the MENA region, according to the Medical Tourism Destination Index published by the Medical Tourism Association in 2014. Dubai aims to become one of the top 10 medical tourism destinations in the world, and the fastest growing medical tourism destination globally by 2020.

According to figures from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), Dubai treated 107,000 international medical tourists in 2012, 120,000 in 2013, 135,000 in 2014, and 296,000 in 2015. The DHA expects that medical visitor numbers will grow by around 12% annually. Dubai aims to attract more than 500,000 international medical tourists and generate around $710 million per annum by 2020.

The government of Dubai announced its medical tourism strategy in 2014 in order to strengthen the Emirate’s position of becoming the top preferred destination for the medical tourism industry. Increasing investments, hiring the best medical staff, and loosening visa restrictions are key elements of this strategy. In accordance with this strategy, Dubai’s government launched the world’s first electronic medical tourism portal, Dubai Health Experience, in April 2016. The portal provides all health, travel, hospitality, and visa services for medical tourists. The portal will add momentum to Dubai's emergence as a leading healthcare destination.

The Dubai Medical Tourism Strategy identifies orthopedic and sports medicine, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, dental procedures, dermatology, preventive medicine, and skin care as key areas in which Dubai can provide competitive and cost-effective treatment options to patients from abroad.

In order to fulfill its targets, the DHA announced that 18 private and four public hospitals will be built in the next few years. Dubai currently has more than 2,700 health facilities, and over 25,000 specialists in the medical field. These numbers are expected to grow to 40,000 specialists and 4,000 health centers by 2020.

Dubai Medical Tourism Club (DMTC)

The DMTC has 25 centers signed on as members to develop Dubai’s medical tourism industry. The main goals of the DMTC are to facilitate the Dubai medical tourism program, promoting medical tourism services, and to contribute to the Dubai medical tourism strategy by identifying new markets and services. There are specific eligibility criteria for the DMTC membership. Each facility that wishes to become a member must fulfill these criteria, which include international accreditation and certifications, a given number of years of service in the region, a given number of beds, and a given physician to nurse ratio.

Did you know?

The Dubai government launched the world’s first electronic medical tourism portal, Dubai Health Experience, in April 2016.

Dubai Healthcare City

Dubai Healthcare City (DHC) boasts a world-class infrastructure for medical tourism. It contains 130 medical centers and employs 5,000 healthcare professionals. In 2014, of 1.2 million patient visits to Dubai Healthcare City, 15 per cent were medical tourists. The government has now announced a new phase of the expansion plan for the Dubai Healthcare City. In accordance with this expansion plan, DHC will eventually be the world’s largest healthcare free zone. The project, to be implemented at a cost of $1.3bn, will be spread across 22 million square feet. Of the new phase, 3.3 million square feet will be dedicated to rehabilitation facilities and retail stores, as well as hospitality and leisure facilities.