Korean Tech Firms Bet Big on Smart Heath Care

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Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
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Korean tech firms including Samsung Electronics are ramping up efforts to take the lead in digital health care market by joining hands with medical centers.

However, the growth is still slow due to burdensome regulations and lack of infrastructure.

The Korea Health Industry Development Institute estimated that around 12 million people in their 20s to 60s used smart health care service last year in Korea, and the local market reached 3 trillion won. The global digital healthcare-related market is expected to surge to $26 billion by 2017, up from $2.5 billion in 2013, according to the latest report by the state-run Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade.

Among Korean tech firms, Samsung Electronics is the most passionate in the digital health care market. Since the smartphone giant announced its “Vision 2020” in 2009, it has continued to concentrate on developing U-health care and medical devices. Last May, it announced “Samsung Digital Health Initiative” in San Francisco and unveiled SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions), an open data platform gathering and analyzing bio information and also launched Simband, a health tracking gadget.

Samsung said it would ramp up efforts on the research and development on analyzing health care data linked to SAMI and Simband in partnership with medical centers.

Samsung’s rival LG Electronics also unveiled its wearable heath care device LG Lifeband Touch, which is currently selling in the U.S. market. The new fitness band is a battery-powered smartwatch-type device that users wear around their wrist to monitor the number of calories they’re burning each day. It also rolled-out earphones measuring users’ heart rate while working out.

Korea’s telecom operators SKT, KT and LG Uplus are also boosting efforts to create revenue from the medical market by capitalizing on their ICT technical know-how. The nation’s two largest carriers SKT and KT already teamed up with Korea’s top hospitals, and created joint ventures Health Connect and Hooh Health Care respectively.

Health Connect is targeting business-to-consumer market based on its Health-On, a mobile-based health management service while Hooh Health is focusing on business-to-business such as integrated medical information system solution and e-MarketPlace.

Two companies haven’t shown any tangible performance last year but they plan to continue the research and development this year.

Korea’s third largest mobile carrier LG Uplus teamed up with Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine, the first time for the hospital of Korean medicine to partner with a telecom company. Two organizations are expected to unveil smart health care IoT solution for spine health this year.

Apart from tech firms, Korea’s large hospitals also joined the digital health care services. Some hospitals already unveiled mobile apps which let users make reservation and check results. Konkuk University Medical Center has run its smart U-health care system since 2010 and Seoul Paik Hospital made Health Avatar Beans, an app to manage blood dialysis, allowing patients to more efficiently manage their medical information.

However, some analysts say more relaxed regulations are necessary for the development of smart health care development. For the technologies and services centering on smart health care, there are too many rules and regulations, according to the Korea Health Industry Development Institute.

In South Korea, telemedicine is still illegal. The revision bill allowing telemedicine was sent to the National Assembly but never passed due to the strong opposition from doctors. One tech company developed telemedicine service for chronic diabetes patients for a decade, but it was disappeared on the market due to the lack of relevant laws and infrastructure.

The prohibition to make investment in hospitals is another factor, which drags the industry behind. “Though smart healthcare services such as telemedicine require a long-term investment and clinical demonstration, the development is not active due to the prohibition of investment,” a market observer said.

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