SEOUL, KOREA — Robert Galia, who had suffered from prostate cancer, came all the way to Incheon International Airpot last April to receive proton therapy. Mr. Galia, who works as a business restructuring specialist in Argentina first learned about the treatment through www.protonkorea.com, the promotional site of Korea’s proton therapy. He decided to come to Korea without hesitation after he realized that Korea has such advanced medical technology. The total amount of bills he is required to pay for medical treatment and his overall stay amount to USD 80,000 while in Korea for two months.
Medical tourism for proton therapy is the business that the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) and National Cancer Center are pursuing by signing the MoU. The number of questions about this medical treatment has soared recently as the news has spread from the patients who experienced the tour in Korea via blogs and other social networking. While staying for 66 days on average, they experience the comprehensive tour including visits to JSA and DMZ, making Kimchi, trying on Korean traditional clothing, Han-bok, and watching various performances. Money that medical tourists spend creates significant added value compared to regular tourists.
Medical tourism, which was selected as a new growth engine business in 2009 is growing by leaps and bounds. According to ‘the record of attracting foreign patients in 2011’ announced in May by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of foreign medical tourists has increased by 49.5%, amounting to 120,000 compared to last year. The year-on-year total revenue of consultation fees reported by domestic medical institutions has also increased by 49.5% to KRW 189 billion. This shows that medical tourism is growing year after year.
Soo-nam Jin, executive director of Medical Tourism Department of KTO, says, “Medical tourism based on the world’s best medical technology is boosting our economy and helping related industries. As a result, it is contributing to improving the overall image of Korea.”
KTO has been devoted to attracting foreign medical tourists through the network of overseas branches since the launch of medical tourism. The business started with the medical tourism promotion back in 2008 and officially launched as a medical tourism center in 2010. In 2011, it was reorganized and expanded into medical tourism business to boost medical tourism. Mr. Jin says, “We will approach the design of customized medical tourism programs that develop potential market opportunities and that provide trust and good impressions to major markets.”
This year’s goal is to attract 150,000 foreign medical tourists in Korea. To achieve this goal, KTO is reinforcing the cooperative system between the medical tourism agency headquarters, 30 overseas branches, and other related institutions including hospitals and clinics, hosting agencies, travel agencies, related associations and local governments. Against this backdrop, KTO is going all out to expand into core markets to Japan, China, and far-east Russia, and developing potential markets in Vietnam, Kazakhstan, and the Middle East. It is also trying its best to improve access to Korea’s medical tourism information and to build infrastructure for an improved medical tourism service.
Last year, the government prepared “the second stage of medical tourism business; sophistication strategy” to grow into a hub of medical tourism in Northeast Asia. It includes founding the mutual benefit association for medical institutions which attracts foreign patients by introducing the compensation system for them. So far, there has been no compensation as they tend to avoid purchasing a medical insurance policy due to high loss ratio in medical accidents and high insurance premiums. They were also treated as an exceptional case to the separation between prescribing and dispensing drugs, which means they can get their prescriptions filled at the hospital.
The overall medical technology in Korea exceeds that of other advanced countries. In partciular, the success rate of spine surgery is the highest in both oriental and western medicine. The survival rate after cancer treatment including stomach cancer, uterine cancer, and lung cancer is higher than that of advanced countries. In addition, plastic surgery is drawing a substantial amount of attention from Asian medical tourists from Japan and China in the wake of the Korean Wave.
KTO will try to create demand by expanding nearby existing markets and pioneering in far out new markets, develop a variety of programs, and attract medical tourists through promotion and marketing. Medical services such as oriental acupuncture, oriental diets, plastic surgery, dental care and infertility treatment will be combined with sightseeing for Japanese tourists. Services including medical checkups, special surgical procedures, and plastic surgery will be combined with sightseeing for Russian tourists. For tourists from the Middle East, spinal treatment in oriental and western medicine, heart surgery, eye surgeries and diabetes treatment will be presented in combination with sightseeing.