Government allows private for-profit hospitals in Korea

 

The South Korean government plans to ease rules in the nation’s free economic zones (FEZs) to allow foreign medical institutes to more easily set up and operate for-profit hospitals in them. Allowed in FEZs since 2003, no foreign investors have shown any serious interest due to various legal hurdles. Many civic groups strongly oppose the move, arguing that relaxing regulations are preparatory steps towards the full-scale, nationwide establishment of for-profit hospitals. Despite the underlying disapproval from the groups, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy plans to amend the ordinance governing the country’s six free economic zones by the end of the year to welcome foreign hospitals to establish and manage medical facilities in them. Under the revision, the ministry will permit foreign medical institutes to manage for-profit hospitals in FEZs and hire a certain number of doctors with licenses acquired overseas. Rules on recognizing foreign medical licenses will also change to accept more foreign doctors, dentists and nurses.

The government is separately allowing new internationally competitive for-profit hospitals in FEZs. In Incheon FEZ construction of the Incheon Songdo International Hospital will begin later this year by American developers Cordish Development. Incheon has agreements with Johns Hopkins hospital and Seoul National University on management of the 350-bed Songdo hospital,

Under the current law, hospitals are non-profit entities and banned from seeking investment. They must follow guidelines set by the health authorities on their operations including charging patients. Proponents of for-profit hospitals claim that allowing such hospitals is the key to boosting medical tourism and to attracting outside investment in order to make local facilities more competitive.

Busan has launched the first hospital hotel in Korea. A 17-floor building at the city’s Bujeon subway station has Smart Hospital from the first to ninth floors and Ibis Ambassador Busan City Center Hotel from the 10th floor. The hospital has begun to take patients and the hotel has opened. As both the hospital and the hotel are owned by a single owner, it can provide a comprehensive service to patients and their families. Owner Kim Yang-hoo has let Ibis take care of hotel management. The hospital has 12 departments and staff who speak five languages other than Korean welcome foreign patients. Patients can stay in either a patient room (150 beds) or a hotel room.

According to the Korea Tourism Organisation, in 2010 81,879 medical tourists visited Korea, up 36 % on 2009. The revenue from foreign patients rose 89 % to USD88.4 million. The Health and Welfare Ministry of Korea estimates that eventually 1.42 million medical tourists will visit Korea annually, while the Korea Tourism Organization expects 2.6 million foreign patients. South Korean authorities are planning on attracting over 300,000 overseas patients by 2015, by developing a medical city - Jeju Healthcare Town.

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