The government announced a plan on Monday to attract 700,000 medical tourists from abroad by 2027, up from 250,000 last year. It also boosted its target for Korean hospitals to open branches abroad from 37 cases last year to 70 in four years' time. To achieve those targets, the government pledged to improve regulations and diversify the kinds of medical treatment foreigners can have access to.The medical industry has tremendous growth potential in an aging society, and Korea has a highly skilled medical workforce and technologies, creating the ideal conditions for its medical industry. But as Bank of Korea Governor Rhee Chang-yong pointed out, the country has been unable to make much progress over the past decade in its quest to become a medical hub, a role which has instead been taken in Asia by Thailand and Singapore.Korea's medical infrastructure is in principle better than theirs, and the explosive global popularity of Korean pop music, TV shows and films also creates ideal conditions to attract foreign patients. But rigid regulations have stood in the way. Blind resistance to the privatization of hospitals prevented foreign investments. The medical services that can be advertised to attract patients from other countries must be expanded from plastic surgery and dermatology to cancer and organ transplants. Korea also needs to slash red tape on remote medical consultations and increase the student quota of medical schools. It cannot afford to waste any more time.
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