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Medical tourism to Korea gains popularity

Since 2009, the Korean government was worked to promote medical tourism overseas as a new reason to come to Korea, resulting in almost 90,000 visitors this year.  Hailing from Japan, China, Russia and even further afield, the government expects the number of tourists who come to receive medical treatment or training to reach 140,000 people by 2012.

According to the Korean Health Ministry, 81,789 tourists came for medical reasons in 2010, a 36 percent increase since medical tourism was first promoted in 2009. Nearly 80 percent of the visits are for outpatient procedures, another 6.6 percent for inpatient treatment and 14.2 percent for checkups.  Most of the visitors were younger, in their 20s and 30s, but a substantial number were in their 40s and 50s, many of whom were visiting for checkups rather than particular treatments. Cosmetic treatments were also very popular.

Non-Koreans having traditional Oriental medicine check-ups at Changdeok Palace. (Photo: Yonhap News)

The city of Daegu in particular has benefitted from this new tourism stream, with almost 5,000 people visiting for treatment last year, more than double the previous year.  Daegu has worked exceptionally hard to promote itself, holding several special events to advertise its hospitals and clinics.

Promoting Korean medical tourism to Indonesians (L) 2010 International Medical Tourism event at Coex (R) (Photo: Yonhap News)

One of Korea’s key strengths in the medical tourism industry is its heavy investment in advanced, cutting-edge technologies, providing patients with the most up-to-date treatment possible.  The government has also worked hard to promote medical tourism through information centers, such as the ones at Busan and Incheon International Airports.

The Korea Health Industry Development Institute invited doctors from 12 different countries to visit hospitals in Seoul. (Photo: Yonhap News)

Samsung medical center, ASAN Medical Center and Seoul National University Hospital, along with other major hospitals, have all reported an increase in the number of non-Koreans visiting them for medical care, especially for cancer treatments, cosmetic surgery and liver disease treatments, where Korea is a proven leader in the field.

“Thailand Singapore and India started to attract medical tourists before Korea, but Korea is developing more faster than these countries due to good infrastructure and strong medical technology” said Sang-Ho Lee, chairman of Wooridul Hospital.

By Oh Jun Kyung Staff Writer

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