After establishing itself as a popular destination for medical care among Arabs in the Middle East, Jordan is now looking to attract more patients from outside the region in a bid to tap the growing market for medical tourism worldwide. With revenues topping $1bn annually, medical tourism is now considered one of the main contributors to the kingdom's economy. A study conducted by Jordan's Private Hospitals Association (PHA) found that 210,100 patients from 48 countries received treatment in the kingdom in 2008, compared to 190,000 in 2007.
Jordan has been at the forefront of the medical industry in the Middle East since the 1970s, and is the region's top medical tourism destination as rated by the World Bank, and fifth in the world overall.
All told there are currently 60 private health institutions in the kingdom, four of which have been accredited by US-based Joint Commission International, which is considered the gold standard for international accreditation in the healthcare industry.
Adding to the kingdom's reputation is the fact that most of its doctors are English-speaking and many have been trained or are affiliated with top US hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins.
While the kingdom's medical care quality is high, its costs are relatively low compared to the rest of the world. Healthcare procedures in Jordan typically are just one-tenth of the price of treatments in the USA, and less than a third of the cost of medical services in the UK.
Other features that make that Jordan a popular healthcare destination are sight-seeing attractions such as Petra and the Dead Sea and the fact that its capital, Amman, is considered one of the cleanest cities in the world.
Earlier this year Jordan launched a major marketing effort to attract medical tourists from beyond the Middle East. The initiatives included sending a delegation to a medical tourism conference in Los Angeles and inviting healthcare specialists from around the world to tour the kingdom's hospitals.
The marketing push includes a web campaign and package deals from hospitals that include air travel. 'We have traditional markets from which we see most of our patients, which are basically the Arab countries in the region. But we are working on many countries in Africa and the ex-Soviet Union, and we have worked hard on the American market,' says Dr. Fawzi al-Hammouri, the head of the PHA.
Interestingly, while the financial downturn has wreaked havoc on most economies throughout the world, it has impacted positively on medical tourism in the kingdom. 'I feel medical tourism in Jordan has benefited from the economic crisis as patients are looking for cheaper prices for medical services, which is one of the stronger points of Jordan's medical care,' he told AMEinfo.com.
'We have seen an increase of 5%-10% in terms of revenue and the number of patients over the first nine months of this year compared to the same period in 2008.'
The private sector traditionally has not gotten much help from the government in promoting medical tourism in the country, but the Jordan Tourism Board is now taking a more active role in boosting the industry as it has seen the growth and potential that medical tourism offers.
'Our goal in the next five years is to receive 300,000 medical tourists per year, and boost annual revenue to $1.5bn. If we follow our strategy we can achieve these numbers easily,' he said.
Jordan Hospital's numbers rise
Jordan Hospital in Amman has seen a 10% boost in medical tourists so far this year, says Hashem Irshaid, International Medical Tourism Marketing and Quality Consultant at the hospital. Most foreign patients at the JCI-accredited hospital are Arabs from the Middle East, but overall the 10th highest total of medical tourists at the hospital comes from the USA, while the UK ranks 13th.
Patients from the USA can see a huge savings by getting treated in Jordan, he said, noting that open heart surgery costs between $140,000-$160,000 in the states, but just $16,000 at Jordan Hospital.
The most common procedures requested by patients from the USA and UK at the hospital are plastic surgery, in-vitro fertilization, and orthopaedic care, he noted. Patients travelling to Jordan from within the region most often seek cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, and cancer-related procedures.
Irshaid says the biggest challenge that the country faces in terms of medical tourism is the visa restrictions that are placed on some countries. 'There are a lot of people in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Zambia who want to get treatment in Jordan, but it is very difficult for them to get a visa,' he noted.
'The problem is that most of those people don't need medical treatment, it's really about immigration. They use this as an excuse just to get out of the country.'
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