Every thought of combining the sun, sand and surgery? That’s exactly what a new breed of ‘medical tourists’ are doing!

Medical tourism has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry with a market size upwards of USD 40 billion, according to the latest statistics from Patients Beyond Borders. And further growth is inevitable with people looking beyond their home countries in search for medical treatments overseas, whether they’re looking for more affordable medical care, better healthcare facilities or greater medical expertise and technology.

In March 2014, Dubai’s medical tourism strategy was unveiled, with the objective to turn Dubai into a regional and global hub for health and wellness treatments. Approximately 135,000 medical tourists were treated in Dubai in 2014, and with the launch of the ‘Dubai health Experience’ initiative, the aim is to draw 500,000 medical tourists by 2020.

Redefining medical tourism with the ‘Dubai Health Experience’

Following the launch of the Dubai Health Experience Program, DHA has recently unveiled a unique and comprehensive website (www.dxh.ae), which provides all the information relevant to anyone considering coming to Dubai to receive medical treatment. This includes details about packages for medical procedures ranging from cosmetic, dental and wellness packages to ophthalmic, orthopedic and fertility treatments. Users can even filter the packages based on type of treatment, hospital and location.

But that’s not all. The portal also offers a comprehensive directory of participating hospitals and doctors. Potential visitors can view their details and make an appointment with a specialist even before setting foot in Dubai. There’s also information about medical tourism visas and inbound travel insurance for medical tourists, and the option of booking flights and hotels as well. So tourists can now plan their trip to Dubai from start to finish, all at one place.

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Which are the participating hospitals and clinics?

As of now, there are 24 hospitals and clinics participating in the the Dubai Health Experience initiative. These include some of the biggest hospitals in Dubai like American Hospital, Medcare Hospital, Mediclinic, Al Zahra Hospital, Saudi German Hospital and Iranian Hospital. The list also includes popular aesthetic centers like Cosmesurge, Silkor Laser Medical Center, Aesthetics International Plastic Surgery Clinic and Kaya Skin Clinic.

What does an average ‘medical package’ include?

The demand for aesthetic and cosmetic treatments has been the highest among medical tourists visiting Dubai. Other popular medical treatments include wellness, dental, fertility and preventive health check-ups.

Based on the desired treatment, there are a variety of packages available for medical tourists. Standard packages cover just the cost of the medical procedure and comprehensive ones also cover the cost of return flights, hotel stay and visas.

Take for example a botox (facial) package from Mediclinic Dubai Mall. At a price of AED 2,318, this will cover the consultation and procedure, exclusive of the cost of visa processing, hotel stay and airport transfers. There are more comprehensive packages available too, like the abdominoplasty package from Aesthetics International Plastic Surgery Clinic. It costs about AED 45,000 and includes the cost of the medical procedure (inclusive of tests, medication and hospital stay), Meet & Assist services at Dubai Airport, guided city tour with a Dhow cruise dinner, hotel stay and airport & hotel transfers.

[Related: Will your health insurance cover plastic surgery?]

How does this compare with global medical tourism?

With healthcare transcending borders, the International Healthcare Research Center launched the Medical Tourism Index in 2014 which ranks countries based on a number of factors including country environment, destination attractiveness, medical tourism costs, and facilities & services. Based on the 2014 results of the Medical Tourism Index, Dubai is ranked 17th among 25 countries for medical tourism.

The Patients Beyond Borders organization also revealed that an estimated 12 million people travel abroad each year seeking medical treatment. And among the most popular destination among medical tourists are Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

With the global spread of information and consumers becoming more empowered and discerning, various countries are now marketing their relative advantage, be it competitive pricing or cutting-edge technological advancements, in a bid to attract medical tourists from all over the world.