April 29, 2010 11:41
Some 60,201 foreign tourists visited Korea for medical treatment last year, exceeding the government target of 50,000 by more than 20 percent, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said Wednesday. This figure was more than double the 27,480 in 2008.
In the past, visitors mainly sought plastic surgery and skin care but they are now seeking a broader range of services, including medical check-ups and treatment of serious diseases.
Internal medicine topped the list of medical services at 20 percent, followed by general medical check-ups (13.5 percent), skin care and plastic surgery (13.4 percent), and family medicine (7.8 percent). By nationality, American inpatients topped the list, followed by Chinese, Russians and Mongolians.
Chang Kyung-won, the director of the Global Healthcare Business Center at the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, said there had been doubts that medical tourism would take off since most visitors from abroad came for cosmetic procedures, "but a recent survey shows that the global healthcare market trend is showing a greater demand of medical check-ups with an increase in internal medicine patients."
More medical tourists visit internal medicine departments, meaning that there are more patients with serious diseases seeking MRI or CT scans and surgery. In other words, more foreign patients trust Korean doctors with complicated procedures.
Medical check-ups often result in patients seeking other medical services. Shim Won-hee, a senior staffer at Seoul National University Hospital's Gangnam Center, said, "Generally, 36 out of every 100 foreign visitors find out that they have health problems. Usually one of them is diagnosed with cancer. So many foreigners who come for check-ups end up receiving other medical services such as surgery, medication, and pain management."
The total revenue of medical services from foreigners amounted to W54.7 billion (US$1=W1,119) last year -- an average of W940,000 per patient. Each foreign inpatient spent W6.56 million, more than three times the average amount (W2.17 million) spent by a Korean inpatient. Some 642 foreign patients spent more than W10 million, 10 of them more than W100 million.
Park Keum-yeoul, the director of the Division of Health Industry Policy at the ministry, said, "If one patient is satisfied, nine more will come through word-of-mouth marketing. An increasing number of foreigners and their families are drawn to Korea by word of mouth. We had earlier set this year's target at luring 70,000 foreign tourists for medical tourism but revised it to 80,000 to reflect the trend."
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com