South Korea developing medical tourism


South Korea has been busy with teaching hospital executives about medical tourism, targeting Japan, and working out what it has to do better.

Medical tourism training is usually targeted at agents and employees, but the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) takes a different view. The latest course in Seoul was only for 21 chief executives and directors from top local hospitals. The “First Global Healthcare CEO Course” at the Palace Hotel in Seoul's Gangnam area was directed at promoting the nation's medical tourism industry through a special medical course for bosses of the nation's key medical institutions including hospitals. The course programme included-
•    The needs and prospects for international cooperation in medical tourism.
•    Trends of global healthcare.
•    Strategy for overseas medical market.
•    Success cases of medical tourism.
•    Medical tourism policy of overseas institutions.

The government backed course sought to help hospitals to work out their strategy for promoting medical tourism.

Japan is the biggest tourism source market for South Korea while over 70% of tourists to Korea are from Japan, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. Most medical tourists are Japanese seeking cosmetic surgery. In Korea, there are over 100 such cosmetic and dental surgery clinics competing for business.

The number of foreign medical tourists to Korea was 60,201 in 2009 and doubled to 122,297 in 2011. It is expected to reach 250,000 by 2014 and by 2020 it will grow to 1 million.

At a recent Korean conference on medical tourism, delegates spent time discussing what needs to improve-
•    Medical tourism needs a high level of expertise. Travel agents are not qualified for that. A lot of trust is required for medical treatment because you invest your health and life into it. So with medical tourism you need specialist medical tourism agencies working with patients and hospitals.
•    The best medical agencies are run by doctors. Korea needs agents with a medical background who can give consultation and connect patients to healthcare centres in Korea.
•    A good example is Russia, which has a huge agency in Vladivostok. Doctors do not get paid very well so they become agents. Such professional agents enhance the quality of the tour agents.

John Linton of Yonsei University Severance Hospital adds, “Korean hospitals have many good points but weaknesses as well. The reception areas are crowded, hospitalization lacks privacy, and there is limited time for doctors to examine or speak to patients. For medical tourism to grow and for Korea to attract more foreign patients, Korean hospitals need to do more to meet their needs. We need to separate space and staff for international patients, and doctors and administrators fluent in English must be on call all-day. We need designated professionals for international patients as well as professionally trained nurses.”

Builders have broken ground at Jeju Healthcare Town in Seogwipo City on the island of Jeju.Jeju Healthcare Town will become a destination for medical tourism, including wellness and recreational tourism. The development plan includes a wellness mall, well-being food zone, and healing garden in the second phase; and anti-aging centres in the third phase.



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