South Korea’s boom in Plastic Surgery

South Korea’s demographic projections make for unsettling reading: with one of the world’s lowest birth rates, its population is set to age more rapidly than that of any other advanced nation over the next 35 years.

The trend, however, will mean a boom in demand for medical services – a dynamic that the government is keen to complement by promoting rapid growth in the country’s medical tourism, pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries.

The most conspicuous area of growth in this sector is reflected by the plastic surgery advertisements that line the subway stations of Seoul’s wealthy southern areas. South Korea has one of the world’s highest number of plastic surgeons per capita, reflecting an image-conscious culture that pushes job applicants to include photographs with their CV even when seeking administrative work.

The huge international success of South Korean pop music and television shows has helped to make plastic surgery one of the most successful export areas for the country’s medical sector, as fans seek to achieve the stars’ glamorous looks.

“About 40 per cent of my customers are now from overseas,” says Park Yang-soo, founder of Dream Plastic Surgery, one of the leading cosmetic surgery companies. China is the most common source of business, with others coming from Japan, southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union. “Chinese customers want an obvious outcome – bigger eyes, a higher nose. But Japanese want something more natural.”

South Korea’s ambitions in medical tourism extend well beyond plastic surgery. Most of the country’s leading hospitals have started wooing foreign tourists with special international health centres. The hospitals promise patients from developing Asian nations treatment that rivals that offered in the world’s richest countries, at a significantly lower price. At Incheon International Airport meanwhile, there is a special information desk for medical tourists, as large as the one catering to all other visitors.

The business has spread well beyond Seoul. Lee Dong-wha set up Dowoo Tour four years ago to cater to tourists seeking plastic surgery in the southern city of Daegu. The company takes care of visa arrangements, hospital and hotel bookings, as well as organising sightseeing trips for recuperating patients. It has an office in Vietnam, and partnerships with agencies in other markets including China and Russia. “Daegu is a medical city – the cost is much cheaper than Seoul, but the medical quality is high,” Mr Lee says.

South Korea’s government this year announced plans to further encourage medical tourism, including a help centre providing legal support to foreign patients unhappy with their treatment, and relaxed visa requirements for medical tourists. The Korea Tourism Organisation is making ambitious forecasts for the sector: it projects that the annual number of medical tourists will rise from 399,000 last year to 998,000 in 2020, with resultant revenue rising from from Won1tn to Won3.5tn.

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Tamil Nadu’s Medical Tourism Boom

With a strong medical infrastructure, Tiruchi, a tier-II city, is slowly but steadily emerging as a medical tourism hub next only to Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai in the State.

The emergence of hospitals that boast of quality intensive care units, medical and surgical experts, operation theatres, pre and post-operative care facilities have strengthened the promotional pitch.

Besides extending basic healthcare services, experts say the city has a slew of good hospitals with multi speciality departments to provide quality services at affordable cost. Though the hospitals in Tiruchi primarily promote their names rather than that of medical practitioners, it has well-known experts in various fields such as cardiology, nephrology, pulmonology, ophthalmology and neurology. It has facilities for kidney, liver and eye transplants too.

“There are good signs of Tiruchi being projected as an emerging medical tourism hub. The city boasts of good quality healthcare to treat patients of heart attack and cardiac failure. It can even offer cardiac resynchronisation therapy,” says Senthilkumar Nallusamy, a cardiologist.

Quite a few hospitals in the city are already receiving patients from Southeast Asia and the Middle East including Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Dubai and Kuwait. Many of them are non-resident Indians employed abroad.

“I get 30 to 40 patients from the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries a month. Depending upon their health issues, they stay three to seven days in Tiruchi for investigation and follow up. What we hear from them is that the investigation and treatment cost is much cheaper than their countries,” says M.A. Aleem, a neurologist in Tiruchi.

Good air connectivity to Tiruchi from Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Middle East is said to be another important reason for patients preferring Tiruchi. Doctors say they can reach their respective hospitals in Tiruchi within four to five hours.

K. Balasubramanian, an orthopaedic surgeon, said the city had good potential to grow as an affordable healthcare centre. “The time has come for the medical fraternity to work out a strategy to attract more foreign patients. The government has to follow a pragmatic approach over issuance of medical visa to foreign patients,” he added.

Medical Tourism to expand to 160 billion dollar from current 50 billion dollar in next 6 years.

Medical tourism is one of the markets of the future: following last year’s successful launch of the important and fast-growing Medical Tourism segment, growing demand means it has had to relocate to a larger hall (21b). Lectures and presentations will take place there, and visitors will be able to get detailed information on clinics, destinations and medical health insurances. The Health Tourism Industry Conference (HTI) is this year’s official partner of the Medical Tourism Pavilion. HTI, which this year is organising conferences in Zagreb and Brussels, specialises in medical congresses all over Europe. Taking place for the first time, the Medical Media Lunch will be held on Wednesday, 7 March, followed by the ITB Medical Night on Friday, 9 March.

Medical tourism offers huge prospects for the global tourism industry. According to the latest report by VISA and Oxford Economics, current turnover in the world’s medical tourism industry is around 50 billion dollars. Over the next ten years growth is forecast to reach up to 25 per cent per annum. The international rise in demand for Medical Tourism places at the World’s Largest Travel Trade Show reflects this trend.