Are Korean hospitals ready for medical travel?


Attracting more foreign patients has become of primary interest to the Korean medical community. Korea has advantages in high-quality medical services at relatively low prices. That is why the Korean government is allowing hospitals to market themselves to foreign patients.

Foreign patients travel to countries with different cultures and languages and entrust not only their health, but also their lives to doctors in another country. But Korean hospitals are squeezing medical tourism into existing premises. The international patient centre is often in annex, staffed by doctors and nurses who can speak foreign languages. Foreign patients experience problems communicating at Korean hospitals, which lack foreign-language signs.

There is a debate between those who want to spread the fruits of medical tourism around, and those who think that service quality can only be achieved by foreigner-only hospitals. The standard of medical care is high, but deficiencies in other service areas means there is a chance that Korea may end up losing foreign patients in the long term, despite some early successes. Reports suggest that some hospitals have not understood that while domestic patients may be content with delays and poor service, in medical tourism, the customer is king.  

Last month, the Korean Medical Association conducted a survey of ten hospitals out of the 44 largest hospitals across the country, which are keen on attracting foreign patients. It showed that only four of them have assigned doctors to handle foreign patients, so nurses often have to act as translators.

The Ministry for Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs (MIHWF) and the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) have established a foundation to attract foreign patients; the Global Healthcare Service Association (GHSA). The GHSA will become a private corporation, help with domestic and international advertising to promote Korean healthcare, train hospital staff to deal with foreign patients, and prepare brochures on treatment fees for foreign patients.



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