South Korea is increasingly becoming popular with residents of East Asia seeking medical treatment. The 20,000-patient target for 2008 has already been achieved, and the next figure the country aims for is 100,000 patients by 2012.
The government funds the Council for Korea Medicine Overseas Promotion, which acts as a middleman between local hospitals and foreign patients and insurance companies. James Bae, a researcher with the Council, said Korea has better medical infrastructure than other nations. “We really try to differentiate ourselves from other Asian countries for medical tourism with our high level of quality for healthcare services. So far this year, 20,000 foreign nationals have visited hospitals associated with the Council. Many came for plastic surgery,” he said.
South Korea, where an estimated 60 percent of women in their 20s have undergone some sort of cosmetic operation, has earned a reputation for producing surgically enhanced Asian beauties. Dr Lee Sang Jun, who runs several plastic surgery clinics in Seoul, said he had seen an increase in Japanese, Chinese and Southeast Asian customers in recent years. “Europe and America also have a high grade of service but they are Caucasians, so it is better for Asian patients to come to Korea and have surgery done,” he said.
It could soon become a lot easier for Korea to attract more medical tourists. Legislation that would allow local hospitals to promote directly to overseas patients and avoid going through travel agencies is currently under review by the Congress. Currently, it is not legal to use the ad medium in building up clientele. The amendment, pushed by the Ministry of Heath, seeks to make an exception when it involves the international market, said Bae.