Impressive Demand of Medical Buyers

Homayoun Zarghany
Investigative Journalist

Many people in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) are dissatisfied with their local healthcare systems and prefer receiving medical treatment abroad. According to Ahmed Saeed, Doctor of Surgical Oncology for every 1,000 individuals in the MENA region, there are 1.8 beds and 2 physicians. Kuwait, for example; 65% of its residents would rather receive medical care in another country. The populations in other Persian Gulf countries have also demonstrated a similar interest in medical tourism, a market that is growing at a rate of 25%. This means that more and more Arabs are choosing to travel abroad solely for the sake of receiving medical care. International healthcare providers can benefit from this and extend their services to new patients.

The medical tourism market in the Middle East and North Africa region is projected to be worth $2.92 billion by 2021, growing by 8.17% annually from 2016 to 2021.

The figures are published in the latest report on the region`s health tourism market by Market Data Forecast, Medgadget reported.

Factors such as stringent documentation forms, issues related to visa endorsement and limited protection scope are hindering the growth of the market. Developing countries with evolving innovation and technology are fueling the market. Major destinations for medical tourism in the region include South Korea, Barbados, Iran, South Africa and the UAE.

Emerging Medical tourism in Iran

Medical tourism in Iran has considerable potential for attracting international patients especially those seeking treatment from MENA region, although there is still a long way to go in this area and there is a need for proper data. According to Dr Saeed Hashemzadeh, Manager of Health Tourism Office, Ministry of Health and Medical Education, Iran`s medical services is definitely competitive in terms of price and quality. The medical history of Iran is very clear this issue has always been regarded as an honour in the history of the country from familiar times such as Ibn Sina, Razi from the past. Also from recent years, the simplest surgery to complex one, such as heart valve replacement, correction of heart anomalies and transplantation surgery in Iran can be successfully done.

This official indicates the policies and procedures of government encourage Iran`s medical centers to be active on the medical tourism market: “Iran`s Ministry of Health in 2014 issued a regulation called the International Patients Department (IPD) certification in health centres, based on these regulations, guidelines and indicators all medical supply chain has been defined. 

“Of the 960 hospitals in Iran, in the initial assessment process, 166 hospitals received IPD certificate and hospitals are evaluated periodically.”

According to Dr Hashemzareh last year, 14,000 treatment visas were issued only for Oman by Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “But we know that all applicants were not treated, and some of these visas were issued to patients accompanying them.”

According to Dr Mohammad Jahangiri, head of  Iranian Health Tourism Association, using the current capacity of the country, we can cover up to one million international patients to receive hospital services per year. This figure is also possible in the field of outpatient services, as the average annual rate stands at 300,000 international patients.

There are multiple opportunities for every company in Iran on the Value Chain of treatment. From the Medical Tourism Broker and Facilitator to the medical facility to the travel agent, growth and profit are available.

Global Trends

A few years ago, people traveled mainly for elective procedures involving cosmetic or plastic surgery for those looking to get rid of wrinkles or excess weight. In recent years, that has changed dramatically due to rising health costs, lack of insurance and procedures not covered by insurance. With a 75-30% lower cost for medical procedures and healthcare overseas, medical tourism has become the popular and sometimes necessary way to get that life-saving procedure done.

According to a study published by VISA and Oxford Economics medical tourism as a burgeoning industry has a value of over $439 billion USD. With 4-3% of the world`s population traveling across borders to get healthcare, it is estimated that this industry is growing by 25% per year. Patients Beyond Borders, considered to be the most trusted international source for consumer information concerning medical and health travel, estimated 1.3 million Americans left the US for medical care in 2016; about 50 percent went to Mexico for dental procedures and another 15 percent traveled for cosmetic procedures. 

Global Healthcare resources (GHR) released Global Buyers Survey (2016-2107) which allows us a look into the trends and habits of medical travelers as well. What are they interested in? What drives them to choose a destination? What are their expectations? 

Global medical buyers are defined individuals or companies that either refer patients to healthcare destinations or are involved in the selection of healthcare providers for the networks offered to traveling patients. 

According to this study, a surprising 51 per cent of patients spend USD 50,000-10,000 and 16 per cent spending USD 100,000-50,000, much higher than previously estimated, likely attributable to the fact that

50 per cent of the patients care surveyed for the study was paid through insurance or government coverage versus 40 per cent self-pay.

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