The Korean government has increased the figure for medical tourists in 2021 from a provisional estimate of 130,000, to 146,000. The government data shows that the number of medical travellers visiting Korea expanded 25% between 2020 and 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
The data shows medical tourists came from 191 countries in 2021, with the USA accounting for the largest proportion, followed by China, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Thailand.
Patients from the US and China accounted for 39% of the total medical tourists, those from Vietnam, 7.4%, and Mongolia, 6.3%.
The number of foreign patients visiting Korea increased for most countries last year compared to 2020. However, the number of Chinese and Japanese patients dropped in 2021.
By department, 48,000 patients (26.4%) sought care in integrated internal medicine, 10.1%, health checks, 9.2% cosmetic plastic surgery, and 6.6%, dermatology.
Integrated internal medicine includes general internal medicine, infectious disease, endocrine and metabolism, rheumatology, gastroenterology, cardiovascular disease, nephrology, allergy, haemato-oncology, pulmonology, and family medicine.
Compared to 2020, most departments saw an increase in medical tourists in 2021. The number of foreign travellers who visited Korea for health check-ups skyrocketed by 278.9%, and those for integrated internal medicine, 64.7%, and ophthalmology, 55.2%.
In contrast, medical tourists for cosmetic surgery remained almost unchanged, and those for dermatology fell 22.3% in 2021.
By type of medical institution, 32.8% of medical tourists visited general hospitals, 28.2% clinics, and 25.6% tertiary hospitals.
By region, Seoul attracted the largest proportion of medical tourists – 49.8% or 73,000 patients, followed by Gyeonggi Province with 17.2%, Daegu with 7.8%, Incheon 5.9 % and Busan, 5.6%.
The proportion of medical tourists visiting Seoul went down from 56.8% in 2020 to 49.8% in 2021. The proportion of those visiting the Seoul metropolitan area decreased from 76.6% to 72.9% during the same period.
As the number of foreign patients seeking cosmetic surgery and skin care, mostly concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area, fell, the proportion of medical tourists to other regions rose, according to the health and welfare ministry.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare reports that medical tourism not only attracts medical treatment income but also has a positive effect on the tourism industry.
The ministry expects medical tourists to keep increasing as the Covid-19 situation stabilises in Korea and abroad. It says it will work with other government agencies to promote the excellence of Korean medical care and make the nation a leading healthcare country.