The Division of Global Health Care Affairs at the Ministry of Health and Welfare is responsible for supporting the overseas expansion of Korean hospitals, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment makers and medical IT-related firms as well as promoting the domestic healthcare industry. While the Division of Global Health Care is focusing on attracting foreign patients, the Division of Global Health Care Affairs is helping the overseas advances of the domestic healthcare industry.
|Park Chang-kyu, director of the Division of Global Health Care Affairs at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, poses for a photo before an interview with Korea Biomedical Review at the Medical Korea 2019, held from March 14-16 at Grand InterContinental Seoul..|
Question: We understand that your division is targeting almost all regions of the world, such as Asia, Americas and Oceania, except for the Middle East area.
Answer: We are targeting many regions. At stake, however, is how to come up with various support steps that fit regional characteristics because there are wide gaps among different regions. China, for example, has a strong will to open its market, and the pace of change is also very fast. Besides, China is quite determined to learn from our healthcare policy. The world’s second-largest economy is likely to emerge as our formidable competitor soon.
Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are competing with us in areas such as the attraction of foreign patients and others. We are taking such situations into account in mapping out expansion plans to these countries.
Q: Your division seems to be paying interests in the Commonwealth of Independence States.
A: The members of the Commonwealth of the Independent States, which had been parts of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) until 1991, has a great interest in reforming healthcare system because of many of them are still maintaining the systems of the former Soviet Union.
Uzbekistan, for instance, has such great interests in the healthcare system, ranging from the introduction of health insurance to medical service delivery system that the country even set up an agency dealing with this issue under the direct control of the presidential office.
Q: In the case of Latin America, the geographical distance may likely hinder our advance to the continent.
A: We are focusing on the pharmaceutical area in Latin America. We are inviting officials related to pharmaceutical licensing administration from various governments there to Korea and dispatching private cooperative missions to the countries.
Recently, the Inter-American Development Bank is pushing to introduce telemedicine using IT technology, long-distance cooperative treatment and digitalization of hospitals through the creation of a fund. We, too, are preparing to participate in the proposed fund.
Q: There are various areas in the field of healthcare. We guess your methods of expansion should differ for each area.
A: Korean healthcare industry’s overseas advance had been made on the private sector’s initiative even before there were no government supports. Accordingly, the results were not very good. That’s why we think the expansion by individual medical institutions will face difficulties creating added values.
The medical industry can create high added value only when it makes overseas advances in a package combining healthcare services with medical equipment, medicines, IT technology and hospital digitalization. We are racking our brains how to combine them effectively into a package.
Q: Pharmaceutical industry seems to be the core area among them. Do you have any specific strategy for its overseas expansion?
A: In the case of pharmaceuticals, the Korean drugmakers have so far been focusing on the export of generic drugs, but the time has come to change the strategy. I think they should shift toward a direction of setting up manufacturing corporations and facilities in foreign countries.
The government will play the role of offering advice in various licensing and permission problems occurring there and helping to solve various other issues they will face.
Q: Korean pharmaceutical companies are smaller compared to global giants. Do you think the new strategy will work given the Korean firms’ scale?
A: Yes, their sizes are smaller than multinationals. However, many domestic drugmakers have already applied to receive the government’s consulting to help their localization efforts. Though small in scale, some are pushing to set up local offshoots and manufacturing plants in various countries, including Vietnam.
Q: What do you think are the advantages of Korea concerning its healthcare sector’s overseas expansion?
A: Top-class talents are working in Korea’s healthcare sector. Because excellent people are concentrated in this industry, it can maintain a high level of medical technique. One needs to see no further than objective data, including the overall survival rate after the liver transplants. Also, the nation boasts IT technology superior to most other countries. These are our significant advantages.
Korea’s health insurance system is also an excellent policy many foreign countries want to imitate. To transplant health insurance system, it is essential to establish a medical billing system for hospitals. There is high demand abroad to lean this and other systems.
Besides, foreigners are interested in Korea’s licensing system of medical professionals. It is in this vein that the Korea Health Personnel Licensing Examination Institute has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam’s health ministry. It is a positive sign that foreign countries where Korea wants to advance want to learn this country’s healthcare system. Korean hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device makers can knock on the overseas market by making the most of this situation.
Q: What are the disadvantages?
A: Korea’s superior medical technology is not well known yet in many foreign countries. Not a few foreigners bring beauty and cosmetic surgery to mind when it comes to the Korean healthcare industry. It is our task to let them know that Korea has world-class medical technology in various areas, not to speak of beauty and cosmetic surgery.
Q: Lastly, what will you say to foreign government and business officials interested in Korea’s healthcare and related industries?
A: Korea’s attraction of foreign patients and overseas expansion has the aspects of the business. However, that’s not all. The Korean government’s goal is to help people everywhere in the world enjoy universal healthcare service and live a healthy life. It is from this aspect that we are pushing for overseas expansion. I firmly believe Korea will be able to contribute to the ultimate goal of improving the health of global citizens if international exchanges become reinvigorates through various activities of the Korean government and businesses.
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