By Lee Hyo-sik
Contrary to government statistics, most hospitals here believe Korea's ambitious goal to nurture medical tourism as a future growth engine is not progressing as well as initially hoped, citing inadequate marketing campaigns and poorly organized tour programs.
They say the government should provide more financial and other support to help medical institutions increase overseas marketing activities, foster more talented medical and tourism manpower, and upgrade healthcare facilities. They also said the government should ease regulations concerning medical insurance coverage and malpractice.
In a survey of 460 general hospitals and clinics nationwide conducted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) Thursday, 93.9 percent of the respondents said their foreign medical tourism business has not met initial expectations over the past year.
Only 5.7 percent said their business had gone as well as anticipated, with the scant remaining 0.4 percent achieving more than expected.
Additionally, only 18.6 percent said the number of foreign patients they attracted had increased from a year earlier, while 67.5 percent said the numbers were similar to those from a year ago. The remaining 9.1 percent responded that they saw fewer non-Korean patients.
But these findings starkly contrast with government statistics released a day earlier. The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Wednesday that 60,201 foreign patients visited local hospitals for various medical treatments in 2009, up sharply from 27,480 the previous year.
The ministry also said the 1,468 medical institutions that had registered with the government for medical tourism earned a combined 54.7 billion won ($49 million) last year, making an average of 940,000 won per patient, higher than a local patient's annual average medical bill of 800,000 won.
``The government has allowed local clinics to implement marketing campaigns overseas to draw foreign patients as of May 2009. As a result, a growing number of non-Korean patients received medical care over the past year. I think the ministry's statistics were accurate, given the fact that all of the registered hospitals are required to report the number of foreign patients and other related-information to the authorities,'' said KCCI manager Kim Hyun-soo, who headed the survey.
Yet the study showed that medical institutions here had expected more than they achieved, presenting largely pessimistic responses, Kim said.
It also found that the larger the hospitals, the more optimistic they were about foreign medical tourism. Nearly 16 percent of general hospitals responded that they had achieved acceptable outcomes, but only 3.5 percent of small-sized hospitals and 4.4 percent of individual clinics gave the same response.
Most respondents cited inefficient marketing activities, poor quality of medical services and inadequate tourism programs as major obstacles to the development of Korea's medical tourism industry.
About 61 percent of the surveyed hospitals plan to hire more medical staff and expand facilities, with the remaining 39 percent maintaining the status quo as they remain skeptical about the prospects of medical tourism.
의료관광에 의구심 있는 병원들
정부의 공식 통계와는 상이하게 대부분 국내 병원들은 부적절한 마켓팅 캠페인 및 형편없는 관광 프로그램 등 때문에 의료관광을 한국의 신 성장동력으로 발전시키는 계획이 잘 진행되고 있지 않다고 생각하고 있다
병원들은 정부가 해외 마켓팅 활동 및 능력 있는 의료 관광 인력 육성 그리고 의료시설 확충 등에 있어서 재정 및 기타 지원을 강화해야 한다고 주장하고 있다. 또한 정부는 의료 보험과 의료 분쟁 등에 관한 규제를 완화 하는 것도 의료 관광 프로그램 발전에 중요하다고 말하고 있다
대한상의가 460여개 대형 중소형 병원을 대상으로 한 조사에서 응답자중 93.9%가 지난 1년 동안 의료관광이 그들의 기대치에 미치지 못한다고 응답했다.