United States Report

US hospitals forge close ties with Middle East


New prosthetic limbs are definitely on the cards for a pair of Gaza twins born with dysfunctional limbs, but that’s for the nottoo- distant future when they grow older. Just taking their first steps a few years ago, was a miracle in itself.

Itaf Shallouf’s daughters, Lamise and Rimas, suffered from a type of congenital deficiency that left them without the tibia bones in their lower legs, and it was feared they would never stand. But today the Shallouf girls are walking, albeit gingerly, thanks to a medical tourism experience that took them from the Middle East to the United States for a series of surgeries and prosthetic fittings at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Los Angeles.

Ever since Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, visited the Cleveland Clinic for a liver transplant more than decade ago, healthcare providers in Los Angeles and other large cities in the United States have opened their doors to medical tourism patients who seek a range of both simple and complex procedures.

Since then, hospitals have recognized that medical tourism patients from the Middle East, who seek a range of treatments from cosmetic surgery to cancer care, spend both more time and money than many other foreign patients Most patients who come for expensive procedures pay the full price for their care.

Boston’s Children’s Hospital saw profits jump last year by 28%, thanks, in part, to a surge in medical tourism patients from the Middle East. Not surprisingly, marketing efforts have been extended to reach this lucrative clientele from the oil-rich Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar at a time when revenue growth from the US patients has stagnated.

Arabic services

Patients from more than 100 countries visit Detroit Medical Center. They welcome potential patients from the Middle East with an Arabic website. Personalized services for these patients include arrangements for dietary and cultural requirements, such as halal meals and proper dress for women during exams; interpretation and resource material in Arabic; and information detailing both on-campus and offsite areas for prayer and religious services.

At John’s Hopkins in Maryland, Arabic patients are often placed in the hospital’s luxury wing, which boasts such luxuries personal chefs and fashionable robes in place of the plain medical gowns.

The UAE, which in some cases pays for the medical bills and air fare for their citizens requiring treatment overseas has been the largest market for foreign medical visitors to John’s Hopkins.

Surf, sun and sand

The US-based Medical Tourism Association is working with the Kingdom of Bahrain and a Saudi Arabian consulting firm to bring wealthy Arab patients to Florida, for treatment at facilities like Florida Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and Miami Children’s Hospital, amongst others. Meanwhile, in Florida, the state is developing strategies to stop the flow of American patients to destinations overseas. This year, the Sunshine State allocated some $5 million from its $51 billion tourism budget to promote Florida as a destination for patients and medical meetings.

Other states have joined the competition by passing legislation, revitalizing their cities and spending millions to reverse the trend of Americans leaving the United States and taking with them an estimated $15 billion in revenue for what are primarily affordable elective treatments abroad. In Minnesota, the state legislature approved $585 million in funding to upgrade infrastructure in Rochester and enhance the appeal of the Mayo Clinic. The international Center of Excellence has already put $5 million towards expansion of the latter to solidify its footing as a “global medical destination centre”.


While competition for international patients can be fierce, not all of the battles are being waged on US soil. Some US hospitals see the opportunity to reinforce existing relationships or establish new partnerships that are enabling patients to stay in the Middle East and receive world-class care to treat digestive disease, eye, heart, vascular and neurological disorders, and respiratory conditions, amongst others.

In a move, leading US hospital Cleveland Clinic opened a state-of-the-art hospital in Abu Dhabi. The 750-bed facility is the sole responsibility of Cleveland Clinic, the first major academic medical centre in the United States to manage both the hospital and delivery of care in the Middle East.

The opening comes on the heels of an agreement between Dubai Healthcare City and Houston Methodist Global Health Care Services, which will provide education and training initiatives at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Academic Medical Center. The Methodist Hospital in Houston has ongoing agreements that provide for a continuum care in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins is in talks with the Kuwait Ministry of Health to provide consulting services for hospital management, medical education, patient safety, nursing, preventative medicine and healthcare policy. In yet another venture, the international healthcare giant is providing similar services for Saudi Aramco, a global petroleum company owned by the Saudi government.

Strength in numbers

Global collaborations like these, while creating a magnet to forge new revenue streams and strengthen brand recognition, at its essence helps save lives and improves the care of patients.

For example, the health of paediatric cancer patients, has significantly improved since the Dana Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center in Boston partnered with the Egypt Cancer Center and Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt (CCHE) to create Middle East-based training programs for local oncologists. In fact, although survival rates for childhood cancers are well behind the numbers found in Western countries, cure rates at CCHE are now on a par with those in the US. However, at the same time, the demand for quality services has increased so much that five out of seven children hoping to be admitted to CCHE are turned away.

Understandably, there is still a shortage of expertise and resources. However, one Egyptian-American girl living in the United States was determined to do something about it. After learning of the plight of the copious children with cancer in the Middle East, eight-year-old Lobna asked that, in solidarity with these patients, gifts for her birthday be donated to CCHE for sorely needed beds.

About the Author

Renée-Marie Stephano is president of the Medical Tourism Association, a non-profit traded organisation she co-founded to advance healthcare options – both quality and affordable – to meet the needs of consumers and providers and to help transition and sustain economic development in regional, national and international communities. To this end, she engages government officials including ministers of health, tourism and economic development to pursue public-private partnerships in support of both international and local healthcare goals.

 Date of upload: 10th May 2015


                                               Copyright © 2015 MiddleEastHealthMag.com. All Rights Reserved.