The government has reduced financial support for hospitals attracting foreign patients for 2021 by nearly half due to the Covid-19 crisis, according to Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The 2021 budget is 5.2 billion won (US$4.7 million), a 46% reduction from 9.7 billion won in 2020.
Covid-19 led to a sharp drop in foreign patients, mostly from China, the USA, Japan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. The amount of the drop is unclear, as the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) admits it is difficult to estimate even the exact number of foreign patient visits in 2020.
All medical facilities that treat foreign patients and those who introduce foreign patients to a medical service provider must be registered with the health ministry. The ministry notified the cancellation of registration to 136 organisations (14 medical institutions and 122 medical travel agencies) which failed to report their records in 2019.
Separate from the ministry’s budget, the government plans to set aside 3 billion won (US$2.7 million) from KHIDI in 2021 to support the attraction of foreign patients with online promotion events.
Particularly badly hit in 2020 and early 2021 have been South Korea’s cosmetic surgery and dermatology hospitals and clinics.
Experts stress the need for the government and medical community to prepare for increasing numbers of foreign patients visiting Korean hospitals after the Covid-19 pandemic. It may be unrealistic to expect high numbers instantly, but preparing for it two to three years later will be necessary.
Ideas include hospitals developing immunity-strengthening programmes, stress-controlling programmes and protocols for the safe transport of foreign patients.