As Oman positions itself as a medical tourism destination, the country faces a significant challenge: How to keep its own citizens from going abroad to seek treatments.

Medical tourism – using foreign healthcare – is one alternative that patients pursue typically to get cheaper or more advanced treatments not offered in their home country.

Worldwide, countries like Oman are working to dip into the medical tourism market expected to reach into the billions of dollars in the future, according to independent industry analyses.

Oman investors expect the demand in American, European and Middle Eastern medical tourists will grow. Apex Medical Group announced in November it had acquired land to build a $1 billion medical city complex in Oman, a country of three million people.

The complex will include a 530-bed hospital along with several healthcare centers focused on education, prevention and even a resort.

However, between 2007 and 2009, Oman residents showed that they prefer medical tourism away from the motherland, too. As the number of visits increased in the three-year span, the number of visits per person decreased, according to statistics released by the government of Oman.

The demand side of medical tourism remains controversial. Though independent reports in 2008 from analysts Deloitte and McKinsey concluded that the number of American patients seeking treatments abroad may be in the millions, an update in 2010 concluded that number was closer to in the thousands. In 2010, Deloitte concluded that 875,000 Americans were medical tourists. Plus, costs for certain procedures decreased in the U.S. after exposure to price discrepancies such as a hip replacement in India costing $8,000 compared with $40,000 in U.S. hospitals, according to Devon Herrick, analyst for the National Center for Policy Analysis.