Decline in Medical Tourism in Jordan…Media Stands as Witness and Accused

AKEED, Wasfi Khushman

Local media outlets carried a story, indicating a drop in medical tourism in Jordan by 35%. However, they did not elaborate on this drop. Nor did they offer in-depth coverage of medical tourism despite the fact that the story is newsworthy and is worth following up on. Meanwhile, some specialized parties have accused the media of contributing to this decline as a result of exaggerating coverage of medical mistakes.

Dr. Fawzi Hammouri, chairman of the Private Hospitals Association (PHA), was quoted as providing this percentage. Most of the coverage carried the headline "Drop in Medical Tourism by 35%," which is what Dr. Hammouri said at a press conference to speak about the Global Healthcare Travel Forum hosted by the capital, Amman, on 25-27 February 2017.

While following media coverage of the issue, AKEED observed that the media had produced identical reports on the conference and highlighted the percentage of the drop in medical tourism in the headlines although the same piece of information was mentioned in previous statements by Hammouri. The media failed to play its role in following up on the issue except by way of passing coverage of news conferences held by Hammouri. Only one newspaper had reported statements by Hammouri prior to the conference.

AKKED notes that a daily newspaper tackled this subject from several angles in October 2016. However, the coverage stopped and was mostly a repeat of previous statements.

What Did the Media Fail To Do?

Based on the standards it applies in its assessment of the performance of the media, the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) thinks that this issue, which directly affects the national economy and the general good, did not receive much attention by the press and other media. It could have been covered in several reports to reveal some important aspects. After monitoring coverage of this issue, it turned out that the media had missed out on the following:

  • Verifying the accuracy of the percentage that private hospitals cited and providing an official figure.
  • Investigating the reasons for the drop in patients traveling to the Kingdom and the degree of influence of media reports published in Arabic media about some loopholes and problems facing their patients.
  • Explaining the size of competition in the region, especially in light of new markets entering this field.
  • Explaining the extent of damage, if any, to the national economy.
  • Highlighting the ranking of Jordan in medical tourism internationally and regionally and how much it has been affected by this drop.
  • Contacting other relevant parties, such as the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Interior, which restricted the entry of some nationalities; and the embassies of the countries that send their nationals for treatment in the Kingdom.

Searching for Multiple Sources

AKEED called Dr. Mit"ib Wreikat, director of the Medical Tourism Directorate at the Ministry of Health, who confirmed that there had been a drop in the number of people seeking treatment at Jordanian medical centers due to government restrictions on certain nationalities. However, he indicated that the drop must be based on comparison with the number of patients last year and the year before it.

Wreikat added that private hospitals provide the PHA with the number of non-Jordanians who visited them. They sometimes report this to the Ministry of Health.

Hatem Azra"i, official spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said that medical centers, including hospitals and others, were under no obligation to report the number of visitors.

AKEED also observed that the news stories that were published confined medical tourism to the visitors of hospitals, particularly private hospitals, without mentioning if the drop covers public hospitals, Royal Medical Services hospitals, physiotherapy centers, health spas, and private clinics.

Dr. Wreikat pointed out that figures indicate that 70% of people arriving for treatment go to clinics that do not require admission. The rest require admission to hospitals. He agreed with Azra"i that medical tourism in Jordan was not confined to private hospitals; it included independent clinics, Royal Medical Services hospitals, and public hospitals. However, the two agreed that the largest share of medical tourism went to private hospitals.

Media Stands Accused

Although Hammouri spoke in his recent press conference about the reasons that he thinks were behind the decline in medical tourism in Jordan, such as restricted nationalities and weak promotion, some media outlets have refrained from following up on this with the Ministry of Interior, the Jordan Tourism Board, and the embassies or citizens of countries exporting medical tourism, and looking for other reasons for the decline, which is being debated.  

AKEED was unable to obtain a detailed copy that shows the number of non-Jordanian patients who come to the Kingdom for treatment. However, Dr. Fawzi Hammouri, chairman of the PHA, explained in a telephone call with AKEED that the number of non-Jordanian patients who visited Jordanian hospitals last year totaled around 170,000. Meanwhile, they were around 250,000 the year before. This means that the number dropped by 32%. He pointed out that these numbers represent non-Jordanian patients who visit all private hospitals, in addition to clinics in key locations in the capital, Amman.

The chairman of the PHA acknowledged that rival markets, such as Turkey, Tunisia, and India, had contributed to the decline in the number of patients arriving in the Kingdom. He partly blamed some local media outlets, which played a role in this decline by "exaggerating some simple medical mistakes and providing intensive coverage of them." This weakens confidence in medicine in Jordan.

It is worth mentioning that Minister of Interior Ghaleb Zu"bi has recently decided to allow Sudanese nationals traveling to the Kingdom for medical purposes and who are 50 years and above to enter the Kingdom with a maximum number of two escorts and to obtain the necessary visa from border outlets provided that they have in their possession $5,000 or more, as reported by the Jordan News Agency (Petra).