Korea increases number of international patients

The number of foreign patients treated in Korea rose 32.5 % to more than 211,000 in 2013, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Exactly how many of these are medical tourists is not revealed. A conservative assumption that three out of four are medical tourists would mean around 150,000 medical tourists in 2013.

Korean hospitals and clinics revenue from treating foreign patients rose 47 % 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 % from 2012.

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

The ministry counted patients who received medical treatment without national health insurance. They include patients who went to Korea for medical treatment and cosmetic surgery, travellers who needed treatment and residents who have no national medical insurance- including some Koreans, expatriates, foreign workers and US military personnel and their families.

Nearly 10 % were hospitalized for 12.3 days on average while 8.7 % just had health checkups. Dermatology and cosmetic surgery were the most common areas for foreign patients. 9% visited dermatologists and 8.6 % saw cosmetic surgeons. Internal medicine topped the chart, accounting for 24.4 % of patients.

Chinese patients were the biggest foreign spenders as they accounted for 26.5 % of the total number and spent a combined 1.02 trillion won in 2013. The number of Russian patients increased 46.2 % to 24,000, replacing the Japanese as the third-largest group after the USA. Russian patients spent more than Americans at 87.9 billion won .The US figures include a large number of US military, expatriates and travellers.

Chinese patients tend to visit cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists while Russians have health check-ups and get treated by gynaecologists 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 East rose 237 % to 1151. 350 were sent to Korea by the Dubai government under an agreement between the two countries. Korea aims to get up to 1000 from Dubai via the government this year, having already treated 290 between January and April. With Dubai spending millions heavily promoting medical tourism it seems very strange that the Dubai government is increasing the numbers of patients it sends overseas.

The number of Russian tourists travelling to South Korea is expected to double to 350,000 this year after the introduction of a visa-free regime in January and this will increase medical tourism numbers from Russia. Half of all Russian tourists go to Seoul.

Park In-seok of the Health Industry Bureau comments, “We expect the number of international patients to continue increasing with the visa waiver programme for Chinese people, and an increasing number of Russian medical tourists as Korean hospitals have pursued marketing activities in different regions of Russia.”

The health ministry forecasts 250,000 foreigners will receive medical services in Korea without national health insurance in 2014. The long-term goal is to get a million foreign patients per year by 2020.

One of the busiest medical tourist locations in Korea is Gangnam District in Seoul, which specializes in cosmetic surgery. The number of medical tourists who visited Gangnam was 19,135 in 2010, 24,535 in 2011, 34,156 in 2012 and 43,000 in 2013, more than a 25 % growth each year.

Busan plans to attract medical tourists to the big hospitals in the city. The hospitals in Western Busan including Donga University Hospital, Kosin University Hospital, Busan Adventist Hospital and Kang Dong Hospital have formed a medical tourism group. Busan University Hospital is expected to join the group as it seeks more medical tourism business. Gangwon Province in the East has set up a medical tourism promotion group that goes to China, Russia and other countries to promote medical tourism in their province. Daegu, Korea’s fourth largest city has an advertising brand of Medi-city Daegu and Jeju Island is promoting medical tourism.