Traveling overseas to receive health care services is not a new phenomenon for the elites in the developing countries. For this social group, the consumption of health care services overseas is part of a general pattern of consumption of foreign goods and services, which can neither be found nor are deemed of lower quality in their home countries. In recent times, the privilege of traveling to another country for health care services has become accessible to the middle classes. Destination countries are not only necessarily developed countries, but also developing countries that have positioned themselves to take advantage of this new market. In addition, a fairly new phenomenon may be observed, that is, people traveling from developed countries to developing countries to seek medical care.
In 2003, approximately 350, 000 patients from industrialized nations traveled to a variety of less developed countries to receive health care services. It is projected that 750,000 Americans will go offshore for medical care in 2007, with this number increasing to six million in 2010.
Medical tourism is rapidly becoming a worldwide, multibillion-dollar industry. Iran has a high potential for this industry. Iran offers a wide range of state-of-the-art treatment, through an extensive network of highly-equipped hospitals, around 850 hospitals, and rehabilitation centers at reasonable costs. An analysis of the costs of the various procedures shows that treatment costs in Iran are much lower as compared to the developed countries. Iran is also very cost competitive as compared to its regional competitors, including Jordan, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain as well as southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, and India.
The unique combination of experience, facilities and natural resources is the key to success of the Iranian health care system. Apart from these, Iran also enjoys a unique range of competent medical staff. Medical specialists and sub-specialists in the country are highly-qualified professionals and are supported by well-trained paramedics and sophisticated medical equipment. The nursing service in Iran is also highly qualified. Further, the Iranian health care system is constantly supported by extensive medical research.
Iran has a unique combination of healthy and pleasant climate, wonderful scenery, magnificent historical and cultural monuments as well as cutting edge technology and sophisticated medical equipment.
Before the advent of medical tourism, as we know it today, Iran was known as a destination for treatment of Muslims, attracting thousands of visitors from Persian Gulf countries. In 2004, the government, realizing the potential of medical tourism, passed a law in the parliament as article 87 within the 4th Social, Economic, and Cultural Development Plan.
Today, medical tourism in Iran is an emerging cluster aiming to provide world-class medical facilities by public-private partnership. While historical data on medical tourism is limited, according to the government, in 2007, there were over 50,000 non-resident patients
Iran has been assembling the various factor inputs necessary for thriving medical tourism cluster. Such factors can be broadly classified as: (1) suitable infrastructure, (2) nice environment, people and culture, and (3) government’s key policy.
In terms of human resources, Iran has highly competent medical practitioners. The country now has over 850 hospitals nationwide. Hospitals in Iran utilize modern technology. However, the use of modern medical technology, especially high-tech medical equipment, is centered primarily in big cities and private hospitals. Public hospitals do not get involved in medical tourism. In terms of international airports, further investments are needed to improve the quality of infrastructure.
Environment, people and culture
Iran has a healthy and pleasant climate, wonderful scenery, and unrivaled historical and cultural monuments. The country is rich in natural resources of spas and hot springs in different cities. This is complemented by internationally recognized warm hospitality of the Iranian people.
Government’s key policy
The Iranian government plans to develop its health care system as a medical treatment hub in the region. However, there are some limitations, including: administrative “red tape” in issuing practicing licenses, very limited malpractice insurance and a lack of proficiency in English or other languages in the country.
There are three key sources of demand for medical tourism in Iran: (1) Iran has to provide comparable quality of health care for Muslim countries in the region as a medical hub, (2) Iran has strong demand for cosmetic surgical procedures, and (3) Iran has been enjoying a good reputation as a prime medical destination for many countries in the region.