By Yi Whan-woo
The government plans to allow "telemedicine" in free economic zones (FEZs) in order to attract more foreign investors, the government said Wednesday.
Kim Jae-hong, vice minister of trade, industry and energy, disclosed the plan at a special forum for such investors,.
Telemedicine uses telecommunications and information technology to provide clinical health care at a distance.
"The government will use FEZs as a test bed for new health care services, such as telemedicine, which combines medicine with information technology and tourism," the vice minister said.
The forum at I-Tower in Songdo was held to discuss ways to enhance the role of FEZs as the hub of the services sector including medical care, education, as well as meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions.
"We are seeking to develop a new market in the health care sector and help people save time and cost in getting related services," said Kim.
The move comes as the government's efforts to attract foreign hospitals to FEZs fell through. The use of telemedicine could allow foreign investors here to receive medical services from doctors in their home countries.
Of the eight FEZs, the ministry said Songdo is likely to be the first place to test integrated services for medical care, IT, and tourism. The district is close to Incheon International Airport, the major gateway to the country.
Korea has sought increase the number of foreign patients visiting the country as medical tourists. The number hit 156,672 in 2012, up from 122,297 a year earlier.
"The current regulation on medical care restricts telemedicine services to patients in remote regions," said an official working at one of the eight free economic zones. "We'll be able to attract more foreign visitors once we run such innovative programs in FEZs."
The government also plans to allow hospitals to run motels to draw more overseas patients.
The vice minister introduced plans to attract foreign universities to FEZs, under which the government will provide support to those undertaking joint research or offering joint programs with local colleges and schools.