Targeting the complex care patient: Korea’s rising global status


In the area of prostate cancer, for example, Korea was among the very first nations outside Japan to fund and utilise proton therapy; it was Korean oncology specialists who successfully treated the first American prostate cancer patient in 2009. The technique is now used by Korean practitioners to treat many other types of cancer, including breast, liver, lung, head and neck, hepatobiliary and pancreatic cancers, with many paediatric cases demonstrating successful outcomes.

Korea is expert in the area of neurosurgery, and has enjoyed a long history of excellence. The Korean Spinal Neurosurgery Society, founded in 1987, now has six sub-societies and two branches. Each holds at least two academic conferences annually, where world-class research is shared with doctors across the globe. Thus, for spine specialists, Korea is now "one of the best countries for learning spine surgeries, one of the countries that holds the largest number of spine surgery-related international academic conferences, and also provides the greatest number of spine surgery-related international lectures."*

It’s not surprising to learn that Korea boasts 17 hospitals specialising in spine work that have been officially designated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Nationwide, 127 hospitals and clinics, including academic medical centres, are members of the Korean Spinal Neurosurgery Society.

Outcomes (success and morbidity rates) for, for example, lumbar interbody fusion and lumbar discectomy for a herniated disk, are on a par with those found in the US, Germany and the UK, with out-of-pocket prices running 30-50% lower. With such procedures costing US$55-$100k in the US, even American insured cross-border patients can travel to Korea and save money when deductibles, co-pays, exclusions and additional fees are figured into the equation.

Perhaps even more exciting regarding spinal research and treatment is Korea’s innovative forays into non-invasive strategies for treatment of spinal disorders. While the rest of the world remains largely surgery-centric, in Korea "minimally invasive spine surgeries, including endoscopic spinal surgery, are commonly performed and compared with the preexisting conventional surgeries, and give better results. Through these surgeries, Korea has become one of the countries that lead... minimally invasive spine surgery areas."**

A global pioneer in non-surgical spine strategies is Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine, founded in 1988 in Seoul. The clinic has achieved notable results both in Korea and around the world, with its Motion Style Acupuncture Treatment (MSAT), approved by the FDA and providing treatment for some 250,000 patients annually. Jaseng now has more than 20 branches throughout Korea and five in the US.

Dr. Raimund Royer; Global Services Director, Jaseng Hospital

Joint research conducted in collaboration with the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill demonstrated that integrative Jaseng treatment for lumbar disc herniation yielded a 95% recovery rate.*** 

Similar success rates have been demonstrated in clinical trials. As minimally invasive procedures gain favour amongst patients and practitioners, the world is giving notice: Jaseng treated more than 2,500 international patients last year, with success rates higher than the surgical success rates found in the US, Canada and other Western nations.

While attending the Medical Korea 2019 conference in March, I had the pleasure of touring Jaseng Hospital in its new eight-story offices in Seoul’s Gangnam District. While the facility reflected the look and feel of a typical Western specialty clinic, it was refreshing to see the absence of operating theatres, ICU’s, masked surgeons and hobbling, bandaged patients.

US and Western healthcare providers and other stakeholders would do well to heed the innovations and improvements happening in Korea. In turn, patients suffering from the double jeopardies of unaffordability and primitive, often inappropriate treatment methods would do well to consider Korea as a viable alternative.


*Research on Spine Surgery. Korea Health Industry Development Institute. Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare. 2019

**Medical Korea/Smartcare Spine. Korea Health Industry Development Institute. Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare. 2019

***Park, Jongbae J.; Shin, Joonshik; Choi, Youngkwon; Youn, Yousuk; Lee, Sangho; Kwon, Seung-Ro; Lee, Hyangsook; Kang, Man-Ho; Ha, In-Hyuk (April 2010). "Integrative package for low back pain with leg pain in Korea: a prospective cohort study". Complementary Therapies in Medicine.



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