Why the Swiss medical tourism sector is looking to tap into the GCC
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Why the Swiss medical tourism sector is looking to tap into the GCC

Why the Swiss medical tourism sector is looking to tap into the GCC

A delegation of medical operators from Switzerland recently visited the UAE to explore opportunities to grow the Swiss medical tourism sector

Swiss medical tourism

Switzerland’s robust healthcare system is among the best in the world. According to a 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) ranking which surveyed 35 European countries, the Alpine nation came out on top with 893 out of a total of 1,000 points.

While it has been a boon to domestic patients (Switzerland reportedly spends around 12 per cent of its GDP on healthcare), it is also in the enviable position of offering its top-notch services to international patients. As Mark Wettstein, director of health tourism at Switzerland Tourism says, there are around 35,000 annual inpatients at Swiss hospitals with residency outside Switzerland. These foreign patients represent around 2 per cent of total patients at Swiss hospitals.

The main source countries for these foreign patients, according to Wettstein, are the GCC region, Russia (including the former Commonwealth of Independent States) and EU countries.

Mindful of the significance of the GCC countries, a delegation of five clinics and private hospitals – Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, Rehaklinik Zihlschlacht, Oberwaid Klinik, Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence and Clinique La Prairie – visited the UAE last month to meet with various stakeholders including government entities, health personnel and medical facilitators to explore opportunities to drive Switzerland’s medical tourism sector.

“The quality of the medical infrastructure and offering in Switzerland is unrivalled. This visit will boost bilateral ties between the medical experts in both countries and make our offers known to an even broader public,” said Massimo Baggi, the Swiss ambassador to the UAE.

Switzerland Tourism has partnered with around 30 hospitals and clinics to develop the messaging around health tourism in Switzerland, and to jointly coordinate efforts to showcase the country’s quality of healthcare and its ancillary infrastructure.

Several factors have contributed to positioning Switzerland as the go-to destination for medical tourism. Chief among these is what EHCI says are short waiting times for elective surgeries, cancer treatments and even CT scans. As Wettstein adds, the main treatments solicited by foreign patients are in the oncology, cardiology, orthopaedics and rehabilitation categories. The primary hubs for these patients remain the regions of Geneva and Zurich. While some facilities like the Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence (which was part of the UAE delegation) offer several specialists under one roof, other dedicated centres including the likes of Mentalva Private Clinic focus on mental health and complementary medicine.

Another contributing factor to the success of the Swiss healthcare sector, is that the facilities are backed by the latest tech – according to a 2019 study by the OECD which surveyed 37 member countries, Switzerland reportedly has the second-highest number of MRI machines behind Japan. Also, hybrid operating theatres or the use of the da Vinci robotic surgical system are not uncommon within the country’s medical infrastructure.

One of the most important reasons that foreign patients prefer to get treated in Switzerland is because of the high degree of privacy afforded to patients and their families, and the assurance that treating medical facilities will hold sensitive patient information securely and confidentially, giving high-profile patients the ability to escape public or media scrutiny in their home countries during their recovery.

According to Wettstein, the approximate duration of stay of international patients in Switzerland is seven nights, and each patient on average is accompanied by 2.5 people. Realising this, most major hospitals in Switzerland have a dedicated office to organise accommodation and activities for relatives accompanying patients on their visits to Switzerland.

A shot in the arm for Switzerland’s tourism industry overall was the decision by the Swiss authorities recently to waive quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. Therefore, vaccinated UAE residents and Emiratis, or those who have recovered from the virus, are allowed to enter Switzerland without having to quarantine. The exemptions work the other way around too. Switzerland is also on Abu Dhabi’s green list for travel, which means returning visitors from there do not have to quarantine on arrival in the UAE capital.

With policies and infrastructure in place, it is inevitable that the GCC in general, and the UAE specifically, will continue to be a growing source market for the Swiss medical tourism sector.

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