Korean medical institutions are striving to attract patients from Russia with the visa-free agreement in effect from this year between the two countries. Approximately 20,000 Russian medical tourists visited Korea and the number is increasing rapidly, about 110 percent each year, during the past three-year period. The agreement is likely to further boost the number to the point of Russia ranking third, beating Japan, sooner or later.
Under the circumstances, both leading general and university hospitals are busy finding translators and preparing food for the inbound Russians. Some of them have sent their own staff to Russia for patient attraction, too.
For example, the Ewha Womans University Medical Center sent a team to this end on March 29, led by Baek Nam-seon, director of the Ewha Womans University Cancer Center for Women. It conducted various PR and marketing activities in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok for six days and succeeded in signing patient attraction contracts with eight medical tourism agencies. The medical center is planning to focus on its specialties like breast cancer and cervical cancer treatments, while exporting its advanced medical technology to Russia through cooperation with local medical institutions and colleges.
In the meantime, Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong has recently hired 10 interpreters for patients from Russia along with Russian chefs. It is currently showing two Russian TV channels around the clock in the wards and providing an After Care Program for consistent contact with the customers even after they return home.
Myongji Hospital has opened Russian language courses for its employees so that they can better communicate with their customers. In addition, it set up the u-Healthcare Center at the International Healthcare Center, which was established in Russia two years ago, in order to provide telemedicine services for those who have returned to Russia after treatment in Korea. Hanyang University International Hospital employed two full-time coordinators recently as well, both of them being former Russian doctors.
The Korean government has made public a new plan in February this year for the promotion of medical tourism from Russia to Korea. According to it, hospitals and local governments are to be engaged in the development of special medical tourism programs, and the Korea Medical Tourism Expo is going to be held in the Far Eastern region of Russia within this year.
“Medical services are free in Russia, but it takes months to move from primary to secondary healthcare institutions, and the facilities and the quality of the services are far from satisfactory,” said Ko Yong, director of the Hanyang University International Hospital, adding, “An increasing number of patients with advanced diseases and those who are better-off are visiting Korea these days to get their ailments treated in, say, a month, which would take a year if they were in Russia.” He also mentioned that their favorite destination is shifting to Korea from Japan, which are characterized by top-notch services and a high degree of exclusiveness, respectively.