Hospitals in Korea are keen to accommodate more patients from overseas by marketing their medical excellence and coordination service. In 2011, local centers drew 110,000 foreign patients and broadening medical tourism has bred a booming business such as online communication tools and personal brokers.
This upward trend is not yet a nationwide phenomenon. Medical tourists flock to the “big five” in the capital — Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital, Seoul National University Hospital and Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital and don’t go anywhere else pretty much.
A regional hospital’s attempt to standout in this skewed competition opens a whole new chapter. Cheju Halla General Hospital is marching into alternative medicine and profit-making, both bold moves, to lure travelers to Jeju Island.
Located in Jeju City, the 700-bed facility is converting an old hotel into a hydrotherapy resort in Seogwipo, a city on the southern part of the island. WE Hotel, short for water and energy, will sit in on a reservoir of carbonated water, and the facilities will have check-up, plastic surgery, dermatology, clinical psychotherapy and postnatal care centers. By 2017, the hotel will have a cancer center as well.
The medical services will utilize the nearby water resource which contains vanadium. Visitors will be able to swim, drink or intake vapors (spa) of the mineral water; studies have found that it can alleviate indigestion, reduce risks of cardio vascular problems and relieve certain skin problems. Also, for people with compromised joints, exercising in water can prevent further damage.
However, these approaches fall under alternative medicine, the realm that includes acupuncture and herbal medicine. For the most part, practitioners of conventional medicine disregard or even refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy.
Unexpectedly, Kim Sung-soo, the president of the Halla Hospital finds it the most natural strategy for Jeju to compete in the medical tourism race. In fact, he is ready to embrace all of it — herbal medicine and cosmetics included.