Korea’s four largest hospitals boast of their international service centers and multilingual coordinators through the in-hospital concierge. The government subsidizes part of these facilities, but are they providing services to the satisfaction of foreigners?
Being a foreigner who has lived in Korea for some time, this reporter decided to test them firsthand, disguised as a short-term sojourner caught in health trouble.
More specifically, I assumed to be an American for a two-week visit. After a week here, I developed symptoms of digestive tract problem as well as some swallowing problem, heartburn, and vomiting from eating too much spicy food.
I needed an upper endoscopy test but as a “tourist,” I don’t have insurance with only a week left in Korea. I called the four institutions -- Yonsei Severance Hospital, Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center and Seoul National University Hospital to deliver the answers. Each hospital responded differently with varying results.
The grades I gave to them are based on English skills, convenience over the phone and knowledge on the hospital and staff.
Yonsei Severance Hospital
|Yonsei International center in Shinchon scored 3/5 stars|
After calling five times, the international service center was still on the line. A couple of hours had passed before they put me through. They asked for my symptoms and said I could come to the hospital before 4:30 p.m. for a walk-in consultation.
When asked for direction, they recommended a taxi first before thoroughly explaining the subway information. Understanding the fact I will be in Korea for one week only, they told me it would be impossible but recommended me a family doctor to get medication in case my symptoms were severe.
Without the insurance, the consultation fee is 75,000 won ($65) in addition to medicine, but without the doctor’s consultation, they couldn’t provide the cost of the upper endoscopy test.
The phone call lasted four minutes. (★★★☆☆)
Asan Medical Center
|Asan Medical Center at Songpa-gu scored 2/5 stars|
They first asked me if I wanted a general family doctor, but I requested a specialist for my case. They needed information from their patients first, so I had to make an appointment online.
When inquired about transportation, they explained the subway directions carefully. But not knowing about spaces for the appointment or how much it would be, they transferred me to another line. The consultation fee is 66,200 won ($57.6), and the endoscopy test will be 460,000won ($400).
They put me on hold two times when asked whether I could perform the test for three minutes. The person on the line talked to a doctor and the examination board before explaining that it would take 10 days for the results and two to three months for an endoscopy test.
The phone call lasted 13 minutes. (★★☆☆☆)
Samsung Medical Center
|Samsung Medical Center based in Gangnam scored 2/5 stars|
I briefly told them about my situation, and they immediately asked if I had insurance. They transferred me to two people before recommending me to make an appointment for a doctor consultation.
They all suggested taxi and subway directions and explained it systematically. But when asking them for any advice, they depended on doctors very heavily, not knowing how much the consultation or endoscopy fee would be and whether I could take the test with my time limit.
Understanding the lack of communication, they said they could make a hospital ID for me immediately for information about the patients and their symptoms. I could make an appointment the following day.
The phone call lasted five minutes. (★★☆☆☆)
Seoul National University Hospital
|Seoul National University Hospital in songpa-gu scored 4/5 stars|
Upon listening to my situation, they directly informed me I could see a doctor the next morning for a consultation. The consultation fee is 60,000won ($50), and the endoscopy test is 200,000won ($174), and with sedation, it was 350,000won ($304).
They asked which transportation I would take and very thoroughly told me the directions. While looking through their schedule, they told me they could not guarantee the test, but they would try to schedule me before I leave.
The lady on the phone was knowledgeable and professional as I explained my symptoms and thought it was not severe. She advised me to get a medical certificate (doctor’s note) if the endoscopy appointment came too late to bring back to my home country.
The phone called lasted six minutes. (★★★★☆)
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