For those who can pay, Jordan and the UAE are the top medical travel destinations among the GCC, according to Josef Woodman, founder of Patients Beyond Borders.
"Although prices are higher than in India or Malaysia, GCC states offer excellent healthcare and patients can nonetheless save 20-40% over the cost of care in the US, or over elective care in Europe."
"Other patients, particularly for cosmetic surgery and restorative dentistry, often have a preferred doctor or specialist. Still others are traveling anyway and often incorporate a business or leisure trip with medical care."
The UAE is a leading destination for medical tourism in the Middle East, forecasting Dhs6.1bn revenue, mainly within Dubai Healthcare City, which continues to be a safe haven for healthcare tourists in the wider region, welcoming around 50,000 patients in 2011 - a 10% increase over the previous year.
"Numbers appear to be similarly up throughout Dubai, including Abu Dhabi. Most international patients visiting the UAE originate from neighbouring countries with little or no access to quality care - for example Qatar, Oman, the Turkic States - and from Iraq, Iran and Libya," Woodman explains.
Oman is now eyeing boosted revenues from the market, following the completion of Apex Medical Group's $1bn medical city in 2014. The extensive compound includes a 530 bed hospital, a transplant and rehabilitation centre, diagnostic and prevention centre, healthcare resort and education complex. The 1.25 million sq m Dilmunia Health Island is also in the works.
IMF loan should safeguard medical tourism in Jordan
Jordan is also a key medical tourism hub with 234,000 medical tourists visiting in 2010, generating $1bn revenue. The kingdom did however face a 30% dip the following year, due to the Arab Spring, given that 86% of medical tourists are from neighbouring Middle East countries.
"After a downturn over the past few years, Jordan is reporting a steep rise in medical tourism the first half of 2012. Most regional patients are coming from Iran, Iraq and Libya," Woodman tells AMEinfo.com.
This growth is occurring despite significant obstacles, and is set to continue as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached a preliminary $2bn loan agreement with Jordan at the close of July.
Jordan, which had been ailing over high oil prices and a slow bounce-back from the Arab Spring, now face regional political tensions over Syria and Egypt, which will slow tourism - but its request for financial assistance should yield continued growth.
The financial aid is not ring-fenced for healthcare services, though a statement from an IMF spokesperson said "the IMF staff agreed to support Jordan's agenda for a socially acceptable fiscal consolidation. [The loan] will provide liquidity during the next three years, which will allow the authorities to gradually implement their agenda."
Progressive GCC countries with good healthcare infrastructure and patient services are keen to keep nationals and locals in-country for their care, rather than heading to Thailand, Germany, US and other popular destinations.
However, increased inbound medical tourism will place additional stress on an already thin base of physicians and specialists, which have traditionally been a challenge to attract and keep in the region, unless medical authorities can provide incentives to keep them around.