The Division of Global Health Care at the Ministry of Health and Welfare was organized in August 2016. It is a division responsible for helping overseas advances by Korean healthcare businesses and their attraction of foreign patients. Of the two, it is focusing on luring foreign patients, with its primary duties ranging from registering and evaluating medical institutions that treat international patients to quality controls of healthcare services by, for instance, surveying foreign patients’ satisfaction.
Besides, it fosters workforce, such as medical coordinators and interpreters essential for the use of Korean healthcare services by foreign patients. In short, this division’s first duty is to create an environment in which foreign patients visiting Korea can receive treatment without worry.
|Lee Jae-ran, director of the Division of Global Health Care at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, stands beside the poster for Medical Korea 2019 event, held at Grand Intercontinental Seoul in southern Seoul, from March 14-16.|
Question: Korea is working hard to attract foreign patients, as seen by the establishment of a division exclusively responsible for this task. Will you explain Korea’s advantages with respect to luring international patients?
Answer: We can attract foreign patients with confidence because Korea’s medical technology has won global recognition. Foreign patients think “they can receive the world’s top-level treatment if they go to Korea.”
Formerly, foreigners tended to think of plastic surgery and beauty when talking about Korean medical services. Korea still has strength in these areas but is getting attention in the treatment of severe diseases, too, such as organ transplants and cancer treatment. For example, patients from China and other Asian countries visit Korea for beauty, cosmetic surgery or health checkup but those from Middle East countries come here to treat severe diseases.
Q: Different countries seem to expect different things on Korea’s healthcare.
A: If we take the example of Middle East countries, Saudi Arabians visit Korea for training as well as for treatment because they want to receive training at large Korean hospitals. The United Arab Emirates sends patients mainly for treating severe diseases like cancer and organ transplants with the state shouldering most of the expenses.
Q: What measures is the Korean government taking to help Korean businesses attract foreign patients or advance abroad?
A: With respect to attracting foreign patients, foreigners often are curious whether the government could guarantee the quality of healthcare services. When I meet foreign health officials, I receive similar questions because this is related to the health issues of their people.
As Korea is implementing the “Act on supporting healthcare export and foreign patient attraction,” medical institutions should register with the government to lure foreign patients. That is, the state is controlling the quality of medical institutions that treat international patients. Besides, all medical institutions should take out medical malpractice liability insurance, too, to prepare for possible medical accidents.
The government also provides support for foreign patients from the aspect of controlling the quality of medical institutions and convenience. There are not only interpreters but also coordinators within medical institutions to provide tailored services. Foreigners can also receive various helps through medical tourism information centers set up at airports.
Q: Your division seems to be focusing on the Middle East, Europe and Africa. What are their regional characteristics?
A: The Middle East nations are making various requests, such as sending patients to Korea at the state expense or wanting Korean medical institutions to advance to their countries. The Korean government is sparing no supports to meet such demands.
In January, Qatar held a symposium on Korean healthcare, and Korean medical workers offered care there, drawing lots of attention. We are trying to provide various custom-made supports for different Middle East countries.
In the case of Europe and Africa, we have yet to conduct brisk businesses and are watching intently how to let them know about Korea’s healthcare industry. We are racking our brains to come up with diverse items fitting each country.
Q: What are the values that the Korean government thinks as important concerning luring foreign patients?
A: It is the creation of the trust. When problems occur in the course of foreign patients receiving treatments in Korea, not only will the government actively step in to solve the problems but also it always tries to establish a system to prevent the occurrence of such problems.
To this end, we have to create trust through continuous consultations with foreign governments, sign various treaties if needed, and update them. The government should do these things. Forming and managing trust is essential.
Q: What concrete results has Korea produced in attracting foreign patients?
A: According to official statistics, about 320,000 foreign patients received treatment in Korea in 2017. That is an actual number, which can be increased to 810,000 in man-days. Some countries count international patients by man-days – one person per day – but we count them by actual number.
We received the 2018 results from medical institutions in February and will release them in April. As we understand it, last year’s figure rose from 2018.
Q: We understand that the government has recently surveyed foreign patients who visited Korea.
A: Yes, we conducted the “2018 foreign patients’ satisfaction survey” on 1,200 visiting patients, and their satisfaction mark was high with 90.5 points.
By nationality, Russians showed the largest number with 22.5 percent of the total, followed by seven Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan, with 17.9 percent, China with 15.8 percent, the U.S. with 13.0 percent, Mongol with 11.5 percent, Japan with 9.5 percent, Southeast Asian nations with 5.2 percent and the Middle East countries with 4.6 percent.
Particularly, 93.3 percent of respondents expressed intentions to use Korean medical institutions once again, and 94.8 percent said they would recommend Korean healthcare to other people. The surveyed foreign patients cite medical technique as the most important factor in selecting Korean healthcare services, with 41.5 percent, chased by doctors’ reputation (18.4 percent) and foreign language service (13.0 percent).
More specifically, staff service and hospital convenience received the high marks of 92.7 points and 92.3 points, respectively, while hospital bills (85.8 points) and communication-patient respect (89.8 points) got lower scores in patient satisfaction.
Q: How do you interpret the low satisfaction with medical fees?
A: It is a delicate topic. However, we do not think it a matter of merely being expensive or cheap but guess the dissatisfaction stems from “insufficient explanation about why certain costs incurred. As there are differences between countries, it needs more in-depth analysis.
We have sent the survey results to medical institutions that took part in the opinion poll so that they can supplement shortcomings on their own.
Q: You held “Medical Korea 2019” event from March 14-16. How did foreign participants respond to it?
A: About 60 high-ranking government officials from 11 countries attended the event. We let them experience whatever they wanted to experience here. The medical commander of Qatar that will host the 2022 World Cup soccer also visited it. He showed much interests in how Korea coped with the outbreak of norovirus during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and so officials from the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention gave a direct briefing to the Qatari visitor.
Besides, participants from China showed interest in large Korean hospitals and cancer centers and looked around them. What’s important is how to prolong such interests.
Q: Lastly, what comments do you have for foreign officials interested in Korean healthcare?
A: In Korea, many excellent people are working in the healthcare sector. Based on their capability, Korea has established a world-class medical technology, facilities and system. Notably, the nation is showing outstanding performance in treating severe diseases, such as organ transplants and cancer treatment, and the assessments of foreign patients who visited Korea are outstanding.
To meet their expectations, the Korean government is providing various support measures for foreign patients as well as tightly controlling the quality of the domestic medical institutions. We hope foreigners will trust the Korean government, visit this country and experience various medical services offered by excellent medical institutions here.
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