Founder of Planet Hospital
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Planet Hospital, the largest medical tourism company in the U.S., is hoping to send more medical tourists to Korean hospitals next year.
Planet Hospital founder Rudy Rupak said the company has so far only sent less than 20 medical tourists to Korean hospitals.
``We’d like there to be a lot more. We’re eyeing at least 100 patients in 2011. We are also looking at opportunities in Russia. America is not the only place that tourists should be coming from. They should be coming from Europe, Africa, Asia and other developing countries as well,’’ Rupak told The Korea Times, Thursday.
Planet Hospital, a pioneer in medical tourism since it was established in 2002, has already sent over 3,600 patients abroad for first class medical care. Around 70 percent of its business comes from the U.S., but there is growing demand from the rest of the world.
Planet Hospital is partnering with the Korea Medical Institute International Inc. (KMI), which will take care of the medical tourists from Planet Hospital in Korea, and is working with the Korea Tourism Organization to promote medical tourism.
Korea is trying to build up its medical tourism program, in an effort to compete with Thailand, Singapore and India, which are well known as medical tourism destinations. Thailand attracts over 350,000 medical tourists every year, compared to Korea that attracts far less at around 50,000 annually.
Korea has excellent medical services, but Rupak noted the Korean government has not been properly promoting medical tourism overseas.
``KIDHI (Korea Health Industry Development Institute) has spent money on a bogus organization that opened a fancy office in Manhattan and organized a medical tourism seminar. They tried to do a branding campaign for Korea. But not a single patient will come to Korea for medical tourism because of a branding campaign,’’ he said.
Instead of promoting Korean medical tourism as a brand, Rupak said the government needs to listen to industry professionals who have had years of experience in the medical tourism business.
Rupak said the Korean government should also target self-funded employers and individual consumers for medical tourism, and not the large U.S. insurance companies. ``At the moment, 90 percent of the business is composed of individual consumers with the means to do it. That’s who we are marketing to,’’ he said.
The Korean government should also be receptive to the concerns of medical patients, and heed the advice from medical tourism industry professionals.
``They should listen to advice from the industry people who have been doing this for a long time... Also language, because I’ve heard it is difficult to find good English-speaking people working at the hospitals,’’ Rupak said.
While Korea is fairly new to medical tourism, Rupak said there are promising signs for its success.
``It took Thailand 10 years before medical tourism got off in a good way. It took India five years... How long will it take Korea? It depends on how they do it, like what India and Thailand did, they did it by listening to the patients and adapting. Can they do it in 4 years? I think they can,’’ he said.