Combining quality and affordability for attractive care

While the Jordanian tourism industry is expanding into new areas like adventure and ecotourism, one of the kingdom's more robust tourism niches is medical tourism. Over the past several years, Jordan has emerged as a premier destination in the Middle East for medical needs, given the high quality of health care and relatively low costs for patients.

In 2011 when regional events threatened to stifle tourism, Jordan’s medical tourism industry expanded. The sector has since been in a period of steady growth, registering roughly 255,000 medical tourists in 2013, according to the Private Hospitals Association (PHA). This is a jump from the 240,000 patients seen in 2012. According to Abdullah Al Hindawi, CEO of PHA, medical tourism revenues in Jordan now exceed $1bn, and medical tourists account for roughly 23% of the total number of patients in the country’s hospitals.

Top-Rate Treatment

Given Jordan’s ability to provide the growing number of medical tourists with excellent care, the UK-based International Medical Travel Journal recognised Jordan in March 2014 as the best overall destination for medical tourism in the world. The government invests handsomely in the health industry. According to the World Bank, Jordan spent $2.45bn in 2012 on total health care expenditure, or 9.8% of GDP.

This high spending on the health care industry has translated to some of the best medical facilities in the region, with 2.45 physicians and 1.8 hospital beds per 1000 people, according to the PHA. Since many medical tourists want assurance that they are receiving care from internationally accredited physicians, the private sector is also working closely with the government to streamline the process of obtaining and maintaining international accreditation for medical professionals in the kingdom.

From Far & Wide

The majority of Jordan’s medical tourists arrive from Arab countries like Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Sudan and Yemen. Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, Libyans have led the number of medical tourists, accounting for nearly 30% of the patients arriving in Jordan for treatment. However, the ongoing financial crisis in Libya has led to debts exceeding JD120m ($169.5m) owed to Jordanian hospitals. The government has threatened to curtail the number of medical tourist visas for Libyans until the debt situation is resolved.

Visa restrictions for medical tourists to the kingdom continue to present the greatest challenge to the medical tourism sector. To remain competitive with leading regional medical tourism destinations like Turkey and the UAE, which often provide visas on arrival for medical patients, the PHA is working closely with the Jordanian government to change the visa structure for medical tourists. The industry hopes that the relaxation of visa regulations for patients will allow Jordan to expand its footprint in Africa. Nigeria, Algeria and Chad are possible markets for patients, and private sector actors like the PHA are working with several charter airlines to explore flight additions that would facilitate more medical tourists from these countries.

Right Balance

While medical tourism has spiked in countries like Turkey, India, Iran and the Gulf, Jordan retains a qualitative edge in the sector. Treatment is cheaper than in places like Turkey, and Jordan has an advantage in terms of language and similar culture for attracting Arab medical tourists. Typically, most foreign patients arrive in Jordan for non-elective treatments and operations, but this trend is changing with the rise in elective surgery in the kingdom. Cosmetic surgery treatment is another area that has been on the rise over the past several years, especially among patients from the Gulf, given that treatment in Jordan is cheaper and of a higher quality. The kingdom is therefore looking to capitalise on medical tourists that arrive in Jordan for non-elective treatments but choose to undergo cosmetic procedures during their stay.

Relaxation of visa regulations for medical tourists along with streamlining the accreditation process for Jordanian medical professionals will allow Jordan to maintain its status as a premier destination for medical tourism, both in the Middle East and globally.

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