Destination Spotlight

Promoting the Korean Global Healthcare Industry

Destination Spotlight

“Global healthcare” refers to the growing international trend towards the greater utilization of medical services overseas rather than in home countries. It has been reported that in 2005 alone, over 19 million people worldwide traveled overseas to access medical services. In fact, The McKinsey & Company projects that the annual market volume of global healthcare will reach 100 billion US dollars in 2010.

In the Republic of Korea, according to the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI), the number of traveling patients using the nation’s medical services grew dramatically from 7,901 in 2007 to 55,000 in 2009.

Number of Foreign Patients in Korea (Years 2007~2009)

  1. No. of Foreign Patients(2007~2008) sourced by healthcare provider members of Korea International Medical Association (KIMA)
  2. No. of Foreign Patients(2009) sourced by 616 medical institutes
  3. Foreign patients who are not eligible for National Health Insurance (NHI)

Since 2005, the Korean government has strived to create an environment that can facilitate a promising future for the overall global healthcare industry, as well as to elevate the domestic industry into a key national strategic field.

In 2009, the government further strengthened its active political support and promotion of its global healthcare industry – designated as one of Korea’s next growth engines – by investing in an overseas campaign to promote, market, and raise awareness about Korea’s advanced healthcare system, as well as by building an international network so that more and more traveling patients decide to come to Korea.

Figure 1: Annual Projection of International Patients traveling to Korea

In contrast with other knowledge-based and value-added industries, such as the IT industry, global healthcare is directly concerned with the health of its patients. As a result, the Korean government aims to provide high-quality medical services that can be differentiated from others by its improved healthcare infrastructure and its commitment to the safety of foreign patients.

On May 1st, 2009, a new medical act was passed, introducing stricter safety measures to protect the growing number of foreign patients seeking healthcare services in Korea. According to this new law, medical institutes and facilitators that wish to attract and treat overseas patients must have a minimum of one medical specialist in each clinical department in order for that department to qualify for registration.

In addition, facilitators must now have at least KRW 100 million in capital, guarantee insurance coverage of KRW 100 million or more, and have at least one office in Korea in order to meet the new regulations. Influenced by the industry practice of legal safety nets that are commonly used to compensate for losses, these requisites are intended to limit entry to medium and large-scale companies that can be more easily monitored, as well as to indemnify international patients for the intentional and accidental property damages in the process of medical tourism to Korea.

In order to ensure a truly safe and high level of medical care for international patients, the Korean government issued an amendment to the Medical Service Act this year, inducing all facilitators to employ at least one medical or nursing staff or global healthcare coordinator, helping guarantee a minimum level of specialization. Additionally, the Government is in the process of developing a series of policies to encourage healthcare providers to purchase “liability insurance against medical malpractice” to create a more efficient settlement system.

Medical Call Center Management

In order to increase customer satisfaction and enhance service reliability, the Medical Call Center operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the country to deal with any concerns international patients may have about the medical services being provided to them in Korea.  

In addition to monitoring complaints by foreign patients, the center offers general medical information, provides referrals to multinational providers and medical tourism facilitators (as well as to legal counsel in the event of disputes or medical appeals), offers an emergency hotline service with emergency medical centers all over the country, and manages the comprehensive website for Medical Korea:

Medical Call Center services are available in five languages: English, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Japanese.

Resolution of Medical Disputes in Korea

Like Germany and Japan, the issue of liability in Korea is settled based on the detailed jurisdiction underwritten law and various precedents. As it involves a lot of time and money, the Korean Government is evaluating the merits of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which can resolve medical disputes more effectively—improving methods of mediation and/or arbitration. Currently, the Central Medical Assessment and Mediation Commission, established by the Medical Service Act, takes charge of disputes with international patients.

However, the Korean government is making efforts to improve the speed, fairness, and transparency of the resolution process by conducting advanced ADRs as well as by accelerating new legislation associated with medical disputes. The legislative bill ‘Act on Malpractice-related Damage Relief and Medical Dispute Resolution’ was initiated by the Health and Welfare committee under the National Assembly in 2009, and is now pending in the Judicial Committee to be passed.

Once this legislative bill is enacted, the National Commission for Settlement of Medical Disputes (controlled by an Expert Review Panel composed of respected experts) will be established by law, and can be utilized by both domestic and international patients.

As long as the patients seeking damages for malpractice-related issues request mediation and/or arbitration, the National Commission for Settlement of Medical Disputes can use its office to investigate in regards to the cause of damage, negligence, and establish any causal relationships. This change would be viewed as a highly progressive move, as well as a way to significantly reduce legal expenses.

Furthermore, this new legislation would introduce an innovative approach to the processing of medical dispute settlements that would ease any apprehension a patient may feel about taking advantage of medical services in Korea.

Promotion & Marketing of Korea’s Medical Services

Korea is recognized as one of the most advanced countries in regard to medical human resources, medical technology and medical facilities. Recently, medical doctors from the United States traveled to Korea to take part in training courses within specialized areas such as spine surgery, robotic surgery, and organ transplantation, a role reversal that affirms Korea’s growing status as a high quality medical service provider. To further enhance our brand of medical care around the world, we hope to promote Korea’s medical services so that its reputation matches its evaluation.

In December 2009, the Korean government launched the “Medical Korea” brand of medical service in Korea and is leading an active promotional and marketing campaign by holding a global conference and road shows, as well as advertising abroad on television, the radio, and in newspapers.

Currently, Medical Korea plans to provide information about the medical services in Korea overall and offer enhanced interactive communication services for international patients in five languages (English, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Japanese) on its official home page, which will be launched in May 2010. Until then, the website stands apart as a symbol of things to come.

The Korean Government is dedicated to building a network among the government, medical providers and medical tourism facilitators so that international patients can better understand, access, and utilize medical services in Korea.  For example, this was the objective of the recent familiarization tour inviting relevant parties such as insurance companies, medical doctors and medical tourism facilitators from the Middle East, the United States, and Russia to Korean healthcare providers.

The international medical training program for medical doctors in other countries is another effort to strengthen relationships with the medical workforce overseas in order to strengthen our credibility.

In the case of the United States, the Korean government has started to develop a Korean medical travel benefit plan for the self insured that brings significant cost savings and increasing employee satisfaction. Also, the government is promoting its marketing activities which will create new medical insurance plans in other countries than the US providing the healthcare option in Korea.

We are committed to becoming a leader in medical tourism and a role model in the international market to better serve international patients in need. It is our firm promise that we will contribute to improving our readiness to serve patients all around the world through our advanced medical technology and the infrastructure providing the best service for the international patients traveling to Korea.

About the Author

Kyung-won Jang is currently the Director General of the Global Healthcare Business Center in Korea Health Industry Development Institute, which is a national research institute under the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs of Korea.

Starting his career in 1995, he is known as an expert in international affairs and global trades in the bio-health industry. He was a Korean representative of Codex General Principle & Food Safety Committee until 2005. Currently, he is actively involved in a lot of international activities including serving as the Secretary General for the APEC Harmonization Center, Korean government delegate for APEC LSIF, Pacific Health Summit Secretary for Korean Delegation, Korea-US FTA Working Group Director, Korea-China FTA Pre-Negotiation Representative, STS Kyoto Forum Secretary for Korean Delegation, and Korea Health Forum Secretary.

Since 2008, he has been in charge of developing Korea Global Healthcare Industry including national policy and law development, international marketing, and internal domestic infrastructure development. Recently, he was in charge of developing the national medical brand, “Medical Korea” in order to promote Korean healthcare service around the world.

For his expertise in global healthcare industry, he was appointed as the executive director of Korea International Medical Association (KIMA) as well as the general director of MTA Asia.

He achieved a doctorate degree in Engineering of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice).

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