Posted : 2008-10-01 19:07
Updated : 2008-10-01 19:07

Lawmaker Backs More Support for Medical Tourism

By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

A lawmaker said Wednesday that the medical tourism deficit caused by the gap between inbound and outbound medical tourists has been widening in recent years.

Rep. Choi Young-hee of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) called for a bigger government role in helping reduce the deficit and promote Korea as a medical tourism hub for foreigners.

``Poor foreign language services available at local hospitals make it difficult for foreign patients to get necessary treatment here,'' she said in a press release.

The lawmaker said the two factors ― lack of awareness building of medical technology and poor foreign language services ― are contributing to the widening medical tourism deficit, urging the government to play a role in narrowing the gap with policy support.

According to the Bank of Korea, the number of outbound patients soared by 12 percentage points in 2007 from the previous year, but that of foreigners coming here for medical treatment increased by merely 4.4 percentage points.

Choi said that foreigners are relatively unaware of high-end local medical services and technologies.

``Individual hospitals face difficulties attracting foreign patients on their own. The role of government is important in overseas publicity activities to promote medical tourism-friendly Korea,'' she added.

The lawmaker said the government should review plans to build solid medical tourism infrastructure to attract foreign patients.

Experts say local medical hospitals have unrivaled strengths in gastric cancer, organ transplants and plastic surgeries, compared with other advanced global medical institutions.

Koreans spent $133 million for medical treatment at hospitals abroad in 2007, while foreigners spent $61 million according to the bank.

Choi projected that this year the country would see $82 million of deficit from the gap between inbound and outbound medical tourists.

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