Medical Tourism on the Rise

The number of foreign patients treated in Korea rose 32.5 percent to more than 211,000 last year, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Tuesday.

As a result, domestic hospitals and clinics’ revenue from treating foreign patients rose 47 percent to 3.93 trillion won in 2013 from 2.67 trillion won in 2012. Each patient spent 1.86 million won on average ― up 10.7 percent from a year earlier.

This reflects the growing popularity of Korean clinics among foreign patients, partly thanks to the government’s active “medical tourism” program.

The ministry said it counted only patients who received medical treatment without national health insurance. They include patients who came to Korea to cure serious illnesses, those who travel to Korea and enjoy medical services including cosmetic surgery at the same time, and residents who have no national medical insurance.

For example, nearly 10 percent of the patients were hospitalized over 12.3 days on average while 8.7 percent had health checkups.

Dermatology and cosmetic surgery were the most common areas of medicine for foreign patients. Nine percent visited dermatologists and 8.6 percent saw plastic surgeons. Internal medicine topped the chart, accounting for 24.4 percent of patients, but this covers a wide range of medical fields, including pulmonary problems and oncology.

Chinese patients were the biggest foreign spenders in the Korean medical industry. They accounted for 26.5 percent of the total number of foreign patients, and spent a combined 1.02 trillion won last year.

“We expect this number to continue increasing with the visa waiver program for Chinese people,” said Park In-seok, director general of the ministry’s Health Industry Bureau.

The health ministry said that the number of Russian patients increased 46.2 percent to about 24,000, replacing the Japanese as the third-largest group after the U.S. Russian patients spent more than Americans at 87.9 billion won.

“Many Russian patients come to Korea for medical tourism,” Park said, adding that Korean hospitals have pursued marketing activities in different regions of Russia.

According to the ministry, Chinese patients tend to visit cosmetic surgeons, internists and dermatologists while Russians have health check-ups and get treated by internists, gynecologists and dermatologists.

Patients from the United Arab Emirates spent the most per person on average at 17.71 million won, followed by an average of 4.56 million won paid by patients from Kazakhstan.

The number of patients from the Middle Eastern state rose 237 percent to 1,151 last year. About 350 were sent to Korea by the UAE government under an agreement between the two countries. Korea aims to host up to 1,000 from the UAE via the government this year, having already treated about 290 between January and April.

The health ministry forecast some 250,000 foreigners will receive medical services here without national health insurance this year. Its long-term goal is to host 1 million foreign patients per year by 2020.

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