South Korea: Medical Tourism

More foreigners visit S. Korea for medical treatment.
Better quality medical technology and low expense in South Korea medical industry.
21 million foreign patients visit South Korea for medical treatment in 2013.
Increased 3.5 times within 5 years.
The number of foreigners who received medical treatment in South Korea last year exceeded the 200,000 mark, the Korean government said in July, 2014.


South Korea is set to become the most important medical tourism destination in Asia, as it has the necessary healthcare infrastructure. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea, a total of 211,218 people from 191 countries around the world received treatment at medical institutions in South Korea in 2013. The figure represents a 32.5 percent rise from the previous year. Medical expenses paid by those foreign patients in 2013 reached 393.4 billion won, up 47 percent from a year ago. Their per-capita medical expenses were estimated at 1,860,000 won, compared with 1,020,000 won for South Koreans.

The global reputation of Korea in plastic surgery attracts foreigners, as it provides them better treatment at low cost. By nationality, Chinese retained the top spot with 56,075 patients or 26.5 percent of the total, followed by Americans (32,750 or 15.5 percent), Russians (24,026 or 11.3 percent) and Japanese (16,849 or 7.9 percent).


The number of Russian visitors surged 46 percent last year from a year ago and expected to replace Japan as the 3rd biggest sender country by 2015. In particular, UAE patients skyrocketed 236.5 percent to 1,151 over the cited period. More Emirati citizens visit South Korea for medical tourism, under an agreement struck between UAE health authorities and South Korean medical institutions. About 25.9 percent of the Chinese patients underwent plastic surgery, while 17.3 percent and 14.5 percent received treatment at internal medicine departments and dermatologies, respectively.

Added to attract overseas patients annually in a bid to achieve the 16 million of patients, 38.5% of annual industrial growth maintained the situation. Specifically, 21 millions of Patients visited South Korea for medical treatment in 2013, a 3.5 times increase from 06 million in 2009, and sales revenue has increased 7 times from 545 billion KRW to 4000 billion KRW in the same period. In addition, sales revenue for travel industry regarding medical treatment recorded 1 million dollar surplus in 2013 from 592 million deficits.

But South Korea, even with quality medical technologies and equipment for plastic surgery and dental clinic, still lags behind in terms of industrialization of medical tourism. Korea ranked 19th place among 34 OECD nations in terms of comprehensive competitive index for medical tourism. The nation was at higher places in terms of medical facility/ equipment with second spot and medical technology ninth spot.

The Korean government is very instrumental in supporting the industry and has designated the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) to handle the majority of its promotional responsibilities. As a result South Korea is expecting to triple its medical tourism market by 2018 from its current market in 2014.

Huh Moon-goo, researcher at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade, noted, “Korea holds high potential of medical tourism in that foreigners seek quality medical technologies that guarantee safety.” Korea costs less than one tenth of the US for the same Caesarean and cataract operations. Therefore, Korea is still a cost-effective choice even after foreign patients pay operation and tourism costs.


Han Dong-woo, director of Korea Health Industry Development Institute, analyzes “Korea’s medical technology is comparable to that of the developed countries and implementation of cancer, organ transplantation has reached the world leading level. Korea also features a best-in-class medical device PET-MRI, proton therapy, and has strengths in the robotic surgery like Davinci”.

Furthermore, he said that the proportion of plastic surgery departments is increasing. Continuously the portion of Health screening service and Dermatology in the medical fell from 13.9% in 2009 to 10% in 2013 and Dermatology slightly down from 9.3% to 09% at the same period. However, a significant increase was noted plastic surgeon by 8.6% from 4.4% in the same period. To catch up with the global medical market, which steeply grew over $100 billion annually, Korea should embrace massive deregulations just as other competitors did, experts advised. To gain an upper hand over its competitors, the nation should set up for-profit hospitals, allowing for easier access to fund rising. Han Dong-woo, manager at Korea Health Industry Development Institute, said, “it is critical to develop various kinds of ‘medical plus medical’ products such as plastic surgery plus LASIK eye surgery or new products that integrate medical service with tourism. And one-stop administration service and interpretation service should be available for foreign patients.”




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Medical Tourism Speaker and Consultant.

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