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Destination Spotlight

A Trip to South Korea

Destination Spotlight

The South Korean Government and about 30 private hospitals collaborated to create the Council for Korea Medicine Overseas Promotion also known by its members as the Korean International Medical Service Association. About half of the marketing budget of the Council is coming from the government and the other half coming from the member hospitals.

The goal will be towards at first promoting its hospitals to patients with less serious illnesses in the US China and Japan.The US target would be the approximately 440000 uninsured Korean-Americans high salaried Chinese patients primarily seeking cosmetic surgery and the Japanese patients seeking alternative medicine and cosmetic surgery.

Although Koreas medical tourism numbers pale in comparison to other countries in the region at about 10000 according to the Korea National Tourism Association the governments efforts to promote medical travel through marketing and the easing of visa regulations will prove to allow these numbers to increase.

I was invited as representative of the Medical Tourism Association (along with about 30 others from the US China and Japan) to visit several of South Koreas hospitals and to learn about what South Korea has to offer for international patients at an event called the Fam Tour.


The international health traveler will be impressed with the modern facilities and cutting edge technology. Research is a priority as many of the medical centers are University Medical Centers allowing for medical staff to not only have their medical degree but also a PhD in related areas. The credentials of the medical staff are impressive which influences research initiatives that impact the type of care available.

In contrast to the modern emphasis Korean traditional medicine has built its reputation throughout Korean history on the uniqueness of its holistic approach. The World Health Organization Collaborating Center for globalizing and researching Korean traditional medicine was established in 1988 in Korea. Both the modern and traditional approaches are available to the international health traveler.

My research and travel experience to about a dozen facilities demonstrated that South Korea is a viable candidate for providing lower cost high quality healthcare for international patients. The downside for medical travel however is the language barriers inherent in this country commencing from your initial visit to the hospitals websites very few of which have an option for English translation.

Most of the physicians and staff do not have a great knowledge of the English language. This is not to say much won change however as South Korean plugs ahead at a very rapid rate to play catch up in the medical tourism industry.


These are some of the medical services that one might want to investigate. Health screenings are completed in a highly efficient effective and comprehensive manner. This is operated as an outpatient service with all services provided in one area completed in 2-3 hours. Optometry hearing checks nutritional assessment and routine labs are included as part of the screening. Results can be transmitted over the internet to a provider should that option be chosen.

Costs increase with the number of imaging procedures conducted. Immediate follow-up is available if any abnormal symptom is discovered.Plastic surgery services include replantation using microsurgery flap operation burn care craniofacial surgery on palatine cheilognathus and congenital malformation of face. Cosmetic surgery services include rhinoplasty ophthalmoplasty and rhytidoplasty.

Dental hospitals with inpatient beds and dental clinics are plentiful in Korea with the newest innovations available. Digital CT and 3-D CT X-ray are used for diagnosing. Ophthalmology services in Korea have made great advances in underdeveloped areas such as angle-closure glaucoma vision correction for refractive error and there is published research available on keratoplasty and intracocular lens implantation.

A full complement of ophthalmology services is available which include cataract retina/uvea glaucoma vision correction strabismus corneal and ophthalmoplasty services with post-operation treatment and post-operation patient management programs.Infertility treatment techniques are recognized as outstanding all over the world. The recent developments of in vitro maturation and oocyte cryopreservation techniques have contributed to the Korea being a leader in this area.Otorhinolaryngology or ENT services provide comprehensive diagnosis treatment and rehabilitation for problems of the ear nose throat and voice.

Korean board certified ENT specialists provide a variety of services including surgery. Speech pathology and vocal pedagogy are available for voice speech disorders and laryngeal disorders.Cancer treatments and cure rates are most especially noted for stomach cancer liver cancer and uterine cervix cancer. Nuclear medicine and radiotherapy techniques are given using the most technologically advanced equipment including proton accelerator thermotherapy and gamma knife.

Organ transplants are a world acclaimed specialty of Korea. They are internationally known for liver kidney lung and kidney-pancreas transplants. They report an unprecedented record for liver transplantation that has a 95% success rate that is higher by 10-15 % over other parts of the world.Other specialties that should be noted include the Genomic Research Center for Gastroenterology stem cell research and artificial heart device development.

Traditional medicine in well established centers is available with many combining western and eastern medicine. Traditional medicine considers the decreased vital energy and a weakened immune system to be the cause of disease. The holistic focus seeks to balance the life forces in the body. It treats the disease by strengthening the immune system and restoring harmony within the body.


The Korean peninsula extends southward from the eastern edge of the Asian continent. It is directly west of Japan. Korea is a land that consists of two states the Republic of Korea known as South Korea and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea known as North Korea.

These two states are divided by the Demilitarized Zone. Korea is 621 miles long and 134 miles wide at its narrowest point. South Korea in 2006 had a population of 48.3 million. Seoul Korea the capital of South Korea has a population of 10.7 million. English is a second language for many Koreans and tends to be understood by most.


It is most important to determine the cost of services length of stay outcomes for the procedure/treatment for that hospital. Make sure there will be an English speaking physician and nurse. Determine if a private or semi private room is to be used. These rooms cost more but are designed for the foreign patient. Ask about patients rights and confidentiality statements.

These vary in each facility. If a rehabilitation stay is required after a procedure ask about the length of stay daily cost and services provided. Joint Commissions International Accreditation is a fairly new concept for Korea. Do not be put off by a hospital that does not have it. Ask about the hospitals certification programs.

Ask if meals are included in the room rate. Visitors are accorded kindness and respect. These concepts need to be embraced. Greetings consist of a slight bow. A handshake may or may not be appropriate. Korean relationships are complicated and a placement in some sort of hierarchy is demanded. When dealing with a physician regarding information on patient status and treatment one must be respectful of the hierarchy.

Keep this thought uppermost in communication. It appears to be a very paternally dominated system.More information on Korean Medical Services is available through the Council for Korea Medical Overseas Promotion. The Council has 34 member hospitals offering a variety of the services listed above. The web address is http//

Address is 57-1 Noryangjin-Dong Dongjak-Gu SeoulRepublic of KoreaTelephone is +82-2-2194-7459

Mary Ann Keogh Hoss is an associate professor and Program Director in Health Services Administration at Eastern Washington University. She has a MS from Eastern Washington University and a PhD from Gonzaga University in Spokane Washington. She is a Spokane native. She is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) and certified nationally as a recreation therapist (CTRS) and a fellow in this clinical discipline. Her research interest include healthcare costs and delivery systems ethics mental health services healthcare reimbursement outcomes in therapeutic recreation female healthcare leadership and medical travel/tourism. She is published in Advancing Women in Leadership and Annual in Therapeutic Recreation.ReferencesKorea the Destination of Medical Tourism (2007) by Council for Korea Medicine Overseas PromotionPersonal Tour (2007) by Mary Ann Keogh HossSeoul City Guide (2006) by Martin RobinsonTravelguide Korea(2006) by the Korea Tourism OrganizationWorld Book Encyclopedia

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