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Inha keeps ahead in international healthcare services
  • By Constance Williams
  • Approval 2017.09.12 13:30
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This is the first of a four-part series on Korean hospitals designated by the government as suitable for attracting foreign patients. – Ed.

If a foreigner plans to fly to Korea to receive healthcare services, he or she must spend an enormous amount of time to find the right hospital and services that provide professional skills and safety.

To boost the efficiency of medical services in Korea, the Ministry of Health and Welfare concluded last month that four medical hospitals could be the primary institutions that attract foreign patients -- Gachon University Gil Medical Center가천대길병원, Hangil Eye Hospital한길안과병원, Inha University Hospital인하대병원, and JK Plastic Surgery CenterJK성형외과의원.

They showed excellence in foreigner-specific services, such as multilingual consultation, interpreter service, transportation, accommodations, infection control, and patient safety systems.

Korea Biomedical Review has decided to review these four hospitals firsthand, to see whether they live up to their reputation of creating an environment for international patients receiving Korean healthcare services safely.

Being the closest medical institution to the Incheon International Airport, Inha University Hospital has already gained recognition from international patients for its convenient location and accessibility.

Inha University Hospital in Incheon.

The institution has been accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI) - a global non-profit organization that measures and identifies the best practices in quality and patient safety- three times since it was founded in 1996, the first in Korea to do so. Their first accreditation was in July 2010, the second certification in June 2013 and the most recent in August last year.

In particular, Inha succeeded in keeping the accreditation in all parts of their medical services, including the Incheon International Airport Medical Center and the Clinical Trial Center.

With over 10 specialized centers and 34 clinical departments, Inha boasts of providing state-of-the-art medical technologies, including 4-Dimensional CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery and Revolution CT for their Cancer Center for the early diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, and a National Negative Pressure Isolation Unit to tackle infectious diseases like Middle East Respiration Syndrome (MERS). With its screen door access system, a limited amount of visitors and staff can only access the unit to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Inha's screen door access system.

Inha also established a new field of specialization called the Department of Admission Medicine, the first in Korea, last month, to achieve its stated mission of “innovating hospital care.”

Composed of medical staff who are specialists in various areas, the hospital’s tasks range from patients’ education, counseling, medical record-keeping, patient safety management, infection control, medical quality management, and research activities, as well as basic patient care.

The most popular service to foreigners is the Healthcare Promotion Center where they can choose from pre-designed screening packages or a checklist of more than 100 items in consultation with a coordinator for customized examination.

International Healthcare Center

Established in 2009, the International Healthcare Center in Inha assigns each international patient a health care coordinator who handles travel and clinical tasks, including the coordination of consultations and appointments, transfer of medical records, assistance with Korea visa application, airport pickup, and drop-off, and assistance with financial arrangements for patients who pay in cash.

Inha's International Healthcare Center.

Jay K. Park박흥재 is a physician in the international center who insists on long consultations to get along with his patients and to learn more about them. Unlike most other doctors who would see a patient no longer than three minutes, Dr. Park sees his patients for over 30 minutes to go through their records and understand their conditions.

“You have to know your enemy before you attack,” Park told Korea Biomedical Interview. A Yonsei University graduate of the 1980s, he lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years before coming back to Korea seven years ago.

“The reason why I think Inha University Hospital became one of the four designated hospitals by the government is it started the operation of this international center earlier than other major hospitals, giving us more time to learn from our experiences,” he said. “Accredited by the JCI, the Korea Institute for Healthcare Accreditation and now recently the Korean Accreditation Program for Hospitals Serving Foreign Patients (KAHF), the patients can remain assured of our services here.”

Park added that the ministry has also designated Inha as one of the seven hospitals to take care of foreign tourists coming to Korea for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

“I remember visiting an old friend who is a high-ranking official of the medical center at the U.S. base in Yongsan and asking him what the most valuable service was in taking care of foreigners,” the international doctor said. “He answered that although major hospitals have the best equipment; safety is the number one priority, along with trust. I wholeheartedly agreed with him. Protecting your patient's medical confidentiality and health insurance is a bonus as well.”

Jay K. Park, a physician in Inha's International Healthcare Center, explains his role in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Asked if there was an increase of patients since the designation by the government, Park said that word of mouth was the main reason for Inha’s recognition. “The awards helped, but most were through foreigners recommending their friends about Inha as well as the Internet.”

Park described his situation three years ago; where he had up to 30 patients a day from over 17 countries to keep him busy. But ever since the oil price collapsed in Russia and the controversy in China over the U.S. anti-missile system deployment called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in Korea, the number of patients has dropped to 10-15 a day. His primary patients are now English instructors from Canada, U.S, Australia, and England who work at international schools and hagwons around Incheon.

“Before I retire, I would like to organize a Korea International Health Care Association, where doctors in each international center from major hospitals would gather once or twice a year to talk about issues and improving them one by one.”

connie@docdocdoc.co.kr

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