How Can Korea Harness Medical Tourism to Attract Foreign Patients?

by English Chosun ,  Kim Chul-joong | 2009-03-09

Luring more foreign patients has become of primary interest to the Korean medical community these days. It has become quite common for patients to travel to other countries in search of top-notch medical services at affordable prices. Each year, 26 million so-called 'medical tourists' travel abroad in search of treatments and the market is scaled at US$26.5 billion (around W40 trillion). We live in an era when medical services are becoming as readily accessible as consumer products. One of the main differences is the fact that consumers have to travel to specific countries for medical treatments.

Korea has advantages in terms of attracting foreign patients, since it offers high-quality medical services at relatively low prices. That is why the Korean government is allowing hospitals to market themselves to foreign patients, also guaranteeing commissions to travel agencies and insurance companies.

If medical tourism is to generate wealth for the country, it is necessary to take a closer look at the strategies and methods used by other countries in similar situations. 20 percent of Singaporean hospitals make a living catering to the needs of foreigners, while the remaining 80 percent serve its natives. There is a division of duties. Hospitals catering to foreign patients offer treatment systems geared toward such clients. Those hospitals try to minimize the period of stay for each patient, while offering one-stop services for all treatments. Foreign patients are hospitalized for three to four days on average (at Korean university hospitals, the average is between 8 to 12 days). Screening for cancer, endoscopic surgery, cosmetic and other short-term treatments are possible, while hospitals specialize in fields popular among foreign patients. Doctors are hired from countries where many foreign patients come from. And all hospital staff are required to acquire tour guide licenses, so they may offer local sightseeing information to foreigners. Hospitals for foreigners are increasingly run specifically for that purpose. 



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