The Issues And Challenges Of Medical Tourism In Iran

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Introduction 

Going to other countries in order to receive health care is becoming more and more common these days especially for people residing in developing countries. For this group of people, the use of health care facilities overseas is part of a general pattern of consumption for foreign goods and services which can’t be found and are deemed of lower quality in their home countries. In recent years, the pleasure of traveling to an alternative country for health care treatment has become accessible to the population in the mid class. Destination countries are not just developed countries; they also include developing countries that have positioned themselves to take advantage of this market. In addition, a moderately new phenomenon can be observed which is people traveling from developed countries to developing countries in order to receive medical attention

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In Medical tourism is where “tourists” seek medical action abroad and are stimulated to experience tourism activities. In the past decades, numerous Asian countries have dominated this industry however, a lot of countries specifically in the middle east region are looking to penetrate this market and to grow their Medical tourism industry. 

One of the many countries looking to enter, grow and expand exponentially in this segment is Iran.

Results

Throughout the years, the Iranian government have paid close attention to the country’s medical sector and have therefore supported the field of medicine by equipping hospitals with state of the art medical equipment through an extensive grid of highly-equipped hospitals. There are 850 hospitals, and rehabilitation centers at reasonable costs. A breakdown of costs of the numerous procedures shows that treatment costs in Iran are a lot lower as compared to developed countries. Iran is highly cost competitive as compared to its regional competitors which include Jordan, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain as well as a few southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, and India.

The reason to why Iran has been successful in the health care industry has to do with its distinct mix of experience, facilities and natural resources. furthermore, Iran has a range of experienced medical staff. Medical specialists in the country are extremely qualified professionals whom are supported by trained paramedics and equipped with advanced medical equipment. Nurses in Iran is also extremely qualified. In addition, the Iranian health care system is continually supported by wide-ranging medical research.

Iran has a unique mixture of healthy and pleasant climate, delightful scenery, glorious historical and cultural monuments as well as advanced technology and refined medical equipment.

Today, medical tourism in Iran is a developing industry which aims to provide world-class medical facilities through a partnership between the public and the private sector. Although historical data on medical tourism is inadequate, according to the government, in 2007, there were over 50,000 non-resident patients (S. Sadri, personal communication, November 10, 2008).

Cluster diamond analysis

Factor (Input) conditions

Iran has been collecting the numerous factor inputs essential for booming medical tourism cluster. Such factors can be generally classified as: (1) suitable infrastructure, (2) nice environment, people and culture, and (3) government’s key policy.

Infrastructure

In terms of human resources, Iran has highly competent medical practitioners. The country now has over 850 hospitals nationwide. Hospitals in Iran use modern technology. However, the use of modern medical technology, especially high-tech medical equipment, is common primarily in big cities and private hospitals. Public hospitals do not get involved in medical tourism. In terms of international airports, additional investment is needed to improve the quality of infrastructure.

Environment, people and culture

Iran has a healthy and pleasant climate, wonderful scenery, and unrivalled historical and cultural monuments. The country is rich in natural resources of spas and hot springs in different cities. This is accompanied by internationally recognized warm hospitality of the Iranian people.

Government’s key policy

The Iranian government campaigns to develop its health care system as a medical treatment center in the region. However, there are limitations, including: administrative “red tape” in issuing practicing licenses, very inadequate malpractice insurance and a lack of proficiency in English or other languages in the country.

Demand conditions

There are three key bases of demand for medical tourism in Iran: (1) Iran has to provide similar quality of health care for Muslim countries in the region as a medical hub, (2) Iran has sturdy demand for cosmetic surgical procedures, and (3) Iran has been enjoying a good reputation as a major medical destination for several countries in the region.

Sustainability Issue

Can the medical tourism cluster have sustainable growth? It depends on the medical resources that different nations have available. If Iran fails to meet the demand of its population for quality health care services, the country will face serious social and political challenges. Its citizens will question why the best doctors, the best medical devices, and the best services are at the service of foreigners instead of the Iranian citizens.

Operational issue

Little care and attention is given by the hospitals to the medical tourism cluster. At the moment, almost all hospitals handle medical tourism requests however they all lack a dedicated division to deal with their medical tourism business. Not having a dedicated contact person to organize activities and an executive to make pricing decisions on medical costs makes it problematic for a potential patient, who doesn’t speak the native language and lives in a different country, in order to establish contact and make follow up queries. The long processes to reply to inquiries, an absence of transparency of the services to the patients, inconveniency in communication and disorganized processing of administrative tasks are problems that are preventing growth of this industry.

Insurance package issue

Medical services contain high risks as they might alter human life and well-being. Once this service is provided by a foreign practitioner in a foreign country, usually the apparent risk is even greater. This is one concern that might negatively crash the growth of medical tourism, because there are no sophisticated insurance packages available which protect both patients and doctors.

Discussion 

Iran still experiences the benefit of being the first powerhouse in medical tourism in the region with strong Factor and Demand Conditions. However, it ought to improve the context for firm strategy and rivalry as well as strengthening the supporting industries. The Iranian government has the great vision of being both the medical treatment hub and the tourism capital in the region by achieving 20 million international tourists’ arrival by 2024. Although, the concept of medical tourism is perfectly aligned with those dreams, the government has not taken an active position to grow this promising sector and add it into their vision. 

From the perspective of the cluster, there are a few things that should be done to improve the competitiveness of the cluster: 1) To enhance the capacity of medical service providers by getting international accreditation and increased affiliation for both hospitals and medical professionals, 2) To perform annual benchmarking analysis against other international players, 3) To reach out and cooperate with travel agencies, hospitals, and insurance companies more aggressively in its target markets, 4) To develop medical tourism IFCs (Institutes for Collaboration) in Iran, and 5) To build a follow-up system for post-treatment monitoring and evaluation of patient satisfaction.

From the point of view of the Iranian government, there are also a few steps that need to be taken:

1) To encourage and support medical service providers and doctors to get international accreditation and affiliations, not to only promote its brand internationally, but also to improve transparency and win customers’ trust, 2) To endorse Iran as the leader in the region in medical tourism more belligerently, and to improve Iran’s image as a clean, healthy and safe travel destination, 3) To take a primary role in developing medical tourism IFCs to allow cooperation and coordination between the public and private sector, 4) To collect and set up a thorough database to monitor the progress of the cluster and improve its transparency and creditability, and 5) To establish a special insurance system for medical tourism, with a singular focus on malpractice. If the Iranian government should negotiate for a cross-border insurance package with the patients’ home countries, this shall increase Iran’s credibility as a medical tourism destination.

Conclusion

To conclude, the study found that medical tourism in Iran is a quickly growing industry with support from the government however, it is still behind its rivals in the region such as Jordan and UAE. In order to tap into its growth potential, by attracting esteemed customers from rich countries, the government must improve its business setting and infrastructure by providing an enabling political, legal and a safe environment. Lively efforts must be made to assure the link among the health care industry, the tourism sector, and supporting industries like the telecommunications and advertising in terms of packaging products, coordinating marketing for the medical tourism industry.

10 Jun 2021

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