South Korea’s Medical Tourism

Medical tourists surpass 360,000

The number of foreigners visiting Korea for medical purposes jumped 23 percent in 2016 from a year earlier, the government said Thursday.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of medical tourists increased to 364,189 last year from 296,889 in 2015. Meanwhile, revenue from them surpassed 860 billion won ($760 million), a record high.

Korea’s medical tourism boom seems unaffected by the Chinese government’s retaliation over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system here.

China accounted for 35.1 percent of the visitors with 127,648, followed by the United States with 48,788 (13.3 percent), Japan with 26,702 (7.3 percent), Russia with 25,533 (7 percent) and Kazakhstan with 15,010 (4.1 percent).

When it comes to expenditures per patient, the United Arab Emirates, which accounted for 3,562 of the visitors, was the highest with 12 million won, followed by Thailand (5.2 million won) and Kazakhstan (4.2 million won). The ministry said 284 patients spent more than 100 million won.

Contrary to popular belief, plastic surgery wasn’t the biggest attraction for them, accounting for only 11.3 percent or 47,881 of the total patients.

Internal medicine accounted for 20 percent, followed by plastic surgery and dermatological treatments (11.1 percent). Demand grew especially for dermatology, gynecology and medical checkups.

The increased demand for dermatological treatments is attributed largely to Japanese visitors, while Russians and Mongolians seeking to treat infertility is the main reason for the increased demand for gynecology, the ministry noted.

More than half of medical tourists chose Seoul. About 78 percent received treatment in the capital or cities in Gyeonggi Province, down by 2 percent compared with 2015.

For hospitals in non-metropolitan regions to share the fruits of medical tourism, the ministry has tried hard to promote them over the past few years. The ministry reckons more medical institutions in various cities will benefit from the trend in the coming years.

The ministry’s ambition is to increase the current number of medical tourists to 1 million by 2020.

Past numbers show the goal isn’t far-fetched. Amounting only to 60,201 in 2009, medical tourists soared to 122,297 in 2011 and 266,501 in 2014. The revenue made in 2009 was about 54.9 billion won.

The ministry believes there is still a great deal of potential for growth.

Ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will begin on Feb. 9, the ministry plans to put more effort into promoting the country’s quality medical services.


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Medical Tourism Speaker and Consultant.

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