Iran holds great potential as a health tourism destination given its reputation in medicine history and its high-quality and low-cost health services in a wide range of fields, from infertility treatment to plastic surgery.
The consumption of domestic healthcare services by overseas guests is no longer an elite phenomenon reserved for the West. In recent times, hospitals and medical centers in emerging countries have positioned themselves as an alternative to international flows of patients. In past decades, several Asian countries have been dominating the industry, but reputable healthcare destinations like Iran have sought to enter the market. The Islamic Republic offers a wide range of state-of-the-art facilities, with some 850 hospitals and rehabilitation centers across the country that use high-tech medical equipment. In terms of human resources, the country has highly competent medical practitioners; Iran hosts 51 medical schools that train some 3,000 doctors annually. Furthermore, the Iranian healthcare system is supported by extensive medical research. An example is the project of Prof. Majid Samii, a renowned Iranian neurosurgeon, who is building the world’s largest neuroscience research center in Tehran. Iran is also cost competitive compared to its regional neighbors, including Jordan, Turkey, and the UAE as well as Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and India. The unique combination of experience, facilities, and medical staff is the key to enjoying a good reputation as a prime medical destination for many countries in the region.
For the last few years, official bodies and local hospitals have claimed that Iran receives 30,000 medical tourists plus 200,000 health and wellness tourists per annum. To increase these figures and promote the country as a health tourism hub, the government recently started regulating tourist healthcare service centers. The hospitals and clinics that want to offer health tourism services to foreign citizens need to acquire licenses from both the Ministry of Health and the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO). The government now offers health service training to employees of tourism agencies and encourages hospitals to open international patient wards. Those clients applying for a medical tourism visa will also enjoy airport transfers and accommodation arranged by Iranian healthcare centers.
However, Iran has always had a reputation for highly advanced healthcare, especially in the fields of dialysis, heart surgery, and eye surgery. Moreover, the country has emerged as a pioneer in infertility treatment, attracting couples looking for in vitro fertilization from all over the Middle East. As one of the best fertility clinics in the region, Royan Institute is a leader in the field of stem cell and embryology research. Its great achievements have placed Iran fourth in the world in stem cell research. At the same time, Tehran has turned into the capital of nose jobs. Up to 40,000 cosmetic surgeries take place in Iran each year, according to the Iranian Association of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgeons, and more than 60% are rhinoplasties. This new trend places Iran as world leader in plastic surgery, capable of attracting clients from around the world, as prices are more affordable than the Middle East and Asia, while high-quality medical services are on par with the US and Europe.
Patients from Islamic countries have shown particular interest in Iranian healthcare services. Before the advent of medical tourism, Iran was known as a destination for treatment of Muslims, attracting thousands of visitors from neighboring countries. Based on studies conducted by ICHHTO, Iraq, Afghanistan, Persian Gulf states, Central Asian nations, and Iranians residing abroad are the main targets. On the other side, the biggest challenge remains convincing Western health tourists of the quality and safety of Iranian surgery.
Iran’s annual revenue from health tourism is between USD400 million and USD500 million and is expected to reach USD2.5 billion in the foreseeable future. To do so, Iran needs to find a solution for the shortage of appropriate accommodation for medical tourists. The government is addressing a plan to renovate health tourism-related cities, such as Mashhad, by encouraging the establishment of facilities and attractions including tourist complexes, hospitals or spa facilities. There is a need for the private sector to take over some areas of health treatment from the state in order to improve the quality of services and reduce prices. This could also facilitate the attraction of foreign investors willing to finance projects and develop Iran as a prime destination for health tourism.
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