Americans are dealing with a huge monster in raging healthcare costs, leaving many abandoning their treatments and care needs to keep them from falling deeper into debt. Essentially, for many Americans, the United States is one of the most expensive countries to seek healthcare.
According to data in the 2022 KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey, average annual worker premium contributions have risen sharply in the last 10 years, from $4,316 in 2012 to $6,106 in 2022, while employer contribution has spiked $15,745 to $22,563 over the same period. As a result, Americans are devising new plans to meet their healthcare needs instead of drowning in debt while receiving care at home.
Many employers are turning to medical travel opportunities to offer their employees top-notch care at a fraction of the U.S. costs. This model is not only lowering unnecessary healthcare costs, but it is also helping health payers and buyers in the U.S. achieve desired health outcomes without running into financial burdens. One country increasingly in focus for many American health consumers and buyers is South Korea.
In a new webinar jointly organized by the Medical Tourism Association and the Korean Tourism Magazine, a team of global leaders and stakeholders in medical travel discuss the massive shift toward outbound medical travel in the U.S., and how Korea is rebranding and redefining healthcare to care for the pent-up demands of millions of international patients.
Korea's Robust Healthcare
In comparison to the United States ($40,364), the cost of a hip replacement in South Korea is nearly 30 percent cheaper at $25,000. In addition, while knee replacement costs $35,000 and face lift costs about $11,000 in the United States, these procedures can be done at $20,000 and $6,000 respectively in Korea.
Medical tourism continues to grow in South Korea. South Korea ranks number five globally in oncology, with three of its hospitals listed among the top 20 for excellence in cancer treatment. Further, Korea ranks high for five-year survival rate for stomach cancer patients at 77%, more than two times higher than that of the U.S. (32.4%).
In orthopedic surgery, Korea also ranks fifth globally in the number of spine disease research papers. Home to one of the top 10 global orthopedic clinics and four hospitals among the top 30 globally, Korea has demonstrated comparable expertise in orthopedics procedures. South Korea also boasts of high clinical outcomes across other specialties, including 100% thyroid cancer survival rates, 92.3% survival rates, and 79.9% cervical cancer survival rates, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Health Industry Development Institute.
South Korea’s healthcare ecosystem is also one of the best in the world, with strong regulatory frameworks that safeguard the quality of care. Korea remains focused on building transparency in healthcare delivery, imposing severe punishment on unlicensed brokers and Charlatans.
Seoul National University Bundang Hospital
Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (SNUBH), one of the largest international hospitals and academic medical centers in Korea, is a center of excellence in oncology, orthopedics, and traumatology. The hospital provides healthcare services to more than 1.5 million patients every year across various specialties.
The first digital hospital in Korea, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital leverages innovative solutions to deliver complex patient care, including the SAP HANA multi-model, single-database cloud for health data applications and other digital models to aid the patient care process.
SNUBH continues to be a leading research center, leading breakthroughs in orthopedic research and other scientific discoveries. The hospital has recorded remarkable success in the treatment of orthopedic conditions, including intractable cervical spine diseases, pediatric orthopedic conditions, and complex sports injuries.
The hospital has also recorded remarkable feats in other specialties, with a 76% success rate in intestinal cancer treatments and huge expertise in radiation oncology boasting state-of-the-art procedures, such as Gamma Knife therapy and 3D conformal radiation therapy.
Asan Medical Center
Asan Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in Korea with 2,700 beds, is another center driving inbound medical travel in Korea. A part of the Hyundai Corporation, owners of Hyundai Motor Group, Asan Medical Center has two large research centers focusing on medical advances and development.
Asan Medical Center has some of the most renowned centers of excellence in the world, including the Liver Transplantation Asan Medical Center, Heart Failure Institute, and Cancer Institute. Asan Medical Center’s Liver Transplantation Asan performs more than 400 living donor liver transplant procedures yearly.
More than 30% of organ transplantation procedures are performed in Korea, including 34.4% of Liver transplantation, 20.5% of kidney transplantation, 40.6% of heart transplants, 18.8% of lung transplants, and 65.3% of pancreas transplants, according to data presented by Dongkwan Kim, Head of International Affairs, Asan Medical Center.
The data further noted that the one-year survival rate following organ transplant was higher than the Korean and U.S. average data. Compared with data from the United Network for Organ Sharing and Korean Network for Organ Sharing, the one-year survival rates following heart transplant were as high as 95% in Asan Medical Center compared to 81% in the United States and 85% in Korea as a whole.
Asan Medical Center’s Liver Transplantation Institute has recorded tremendous feat over the last two decades, being the first center to perform an adult living donor liver transplantation using a modified right lobe in 1999 and dual living donor liver transplantation from two donors in 2000. In 2019, the center was ranked number 1 in the number of liver transplant surgeries done, with a record 505 liver transplants done that year.
The Center’s Heart Institute also ranks high globally in advanced cardiac procedures. The center pioneered the first stenting for the left main coronary artery in the world and the first success for Transcatheter Mitral and Aortic Valve Repairs in Korea.
Asan Medical Center’s Cancer Institute is also the largest in the country, with more than 700 beds, offering more than 22,000 cancer surgeries done yearly. The Center was ranked number 5 in U.S. News Week’s “Best Hospitals in the World” in 2022 for excellence in oncology.
Medical tourists in their thousands are leaving their countries to access these top-notch care services at Asan Medical Center, with more than 20,000 international patients visiting the center to meet their healthcare needs in 2019. The center has a robust international healthcare center that offers quality patient experience along all phases of the care journey, offering visa assistance, appointment booking services, airport pick-up, 24-hour translation and transportation, and post-discharge airport and remote consultations.
Seoul St. Mary's Hospital
Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital in Korea also drives inbound medical travel to the country. Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital is one of the member hospitals of the Catholic Medical Center, the largest healthcare network in Korea. Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital, with more than 1000 beds, has 26 specialized centers of excellence, including the Catholic Hematology Hospital, the largest hematology hospital in Asia, performing more than 9,000 cases of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation as of June 2022.
Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital also boasts one of the largest cancer centers in Korea, the Comprehensive Cancer Institute. A multidisciplinary center with excellence in the treatment of several oncology conditions, Comprehensive Cancer Institute is renowned for the high success rates of cancer treatment services. The hospital’s Organ Transplantation Center remains one of the most renowned organ transplant centers in Asia. The center was the first in Korea to perform a liver transplant from a brain-dead donor in 1993.
According to data presented by the Head of International Affairs and Collaboration at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital, Joy Oh, the stomach cancer treatment survival rate exceeds that of many top U.S. hospitals, including Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital has an International Healthcare Center that caters to the needs of the medical tourist, with a highly trained staff capable of delivering patients’ needs across various cultural contexts. The Center provides round-the-block interpretation services in English, Russian, Arabic, French, Japanese, and Chinese.
Gachon University Gil Medical Center
Gachon University Gil Medical Center, Incheon, Korea is also driving an inflow of international patients for a wide range of clinical services, especially oncology and fertility services. The 5th largest hospital in Korea, Gachon University Gil Medical Center ranks high in oncology procedures, with more than 515 breast cancer surgery done in 2021.
Gachon University Gil Medical Center has a robust medical travel program with an international healthcare center that offers translation services and round-the-clock availability to attend to patient needs and concerns. The team is also committed to an excellent patient experience, ensuring smooth flow along all touch points of the healthcare journey, including airport pickup and sending shuttle, and translation services.
More than 29% of inbound medical travel to Gachon University Gil Medical Center was by international patients needing oncology treatments, followed by medical tourists seeking fertility and gynecology services (19%) in 2021. Gachon University Gil Medical Center receives patients from many countries, including China, the United States, Russia, and Kazakhstan.
Korea is reshaping the dynamics of the industry as advances in the country's healthcare system are attracting millions of medical tourists from around the world. With strategic partnerships and business models, these hospitals are redefining care standards and the patient experience.
Seoul National University Bundang Hospital is one of the global healthcare institutions that are leveraging Global Healthcare Accreditation’s (GHA) resources and tools to expand their fronts and connect to millions of international patients around the world. With the
GHA’s Accreditation for Medical Travel is helping these hospitals remodel their healthcare packages to meet international patients’ needs and redefine patient experience. GHA offers resources, training, and relevant partnerships that medical travel programs can leverage to provide robust packages. GHA is led by a team of global medical travel experts and leaders who understand the nuances of the market and help medical travel hubs reposition themselves to align with international best practices in health, safety, and well-being.