More foreigners seek medical services
By Yun Suh-young
Three year-old Trepova Malika from Kazakhstan is in Korea to receive treatment for cancer from a hospital in Seoul.
Treatment in her own country to remove the tumor near her hip was ineffective and her condition showed no improvement. With no other options, she checked into Yonsei Severance Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Seoul.
Since receiving treatment there, Malika has become much better. Her medical bills are being paid by the Kazak government.
More and more foreigners like Malika are turning to local hospitals for medical solutions that are unavailable in their home countries.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare released a report Wednesday showing an increase in the number of foreigners visiting Korea to receive medical care.
According to the report, the number of foreign patients reached 122,297 in 2011, exceeding the government’s initial goal of 110,000. Patients from abroad have increased by 49.5 percent compared to 2010.
Outpatients stood at 95,810 taking up 78 percent out of the total. Patients coming for checkups numbered 14,542 (11.9 percent) and the number of inpatients was 11,945 accounting for 9.8 percent.
Such numbers are not high enough to threaten locals’ accessibility to medical services. Foreigners took up only 0.27 percent of the total number of patients in Korea.
In terms of nationality, Americans ranked highest at 27 percent followed by Japanese with 22.1 percent and Chinese with 18.9 percent. Russians and Mongolians were next.
An interesting phenomenon was the increase in Japanese patients despite last year’s nuclear disaster caused by massive earthquake and tsunami. Japanese patients increased by 103 percent, surpassing those from China. This is attributed to the appreciation of the yen and “hallyu” or the Korean wave in the neighboring country, experts say.
“Ever since the Korean government began its project to attract foreign patients, their numbers have increased every year since 2009. The income from medical fees has also increased by 81.9 percent,” said a ministry official.
The number of foreign patients in 2009 was 60,000 but in 2010 it grew to 81,000 and in 2011 it reached 122,000.
“This is not a temporary phenomenon caused by hallyu but it is a sustainable phenomenon that will continue. We expect the medical industry to grow further in the coming years by successfully attracting foreign patients,” the official said.
The average amount spent by foreign patients was 1.49 million won, much higher than for a local patient who spent 1.01 million won.
“We plan to expand agreements between governments regarding the receipt of patients and to increase study opportunities for doctors. This will strengthen the foothold of the Korean medical industry,” the official said.