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China’s ‘THAAD retaliation’ hurts medical tourism, lowers brand value
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.05.29 17:04
  • Updated 2017.05.29 17:04
  • comments 0

China’s economic retaliation in the aftermath of South Korea’s deployment of the U.S. antimissile system will lead to the lowering of Korean healthcare industry’s brand value, an expert said Monday.

Medical institutions here had made a massive investment in anticipation of the rush of Chinese patients. However, the abrupt drop in Chinese visitors for medical treatment has led local hospitals to slash medical fees, and the dumping has, in turn, resulted in the downgrading of healthcare services, said Ahn Gun-young안건영, chairman of Korea Brand Hospital Association브랜드병의원협회.

Ahn and other experts discussed ways to revive medical tourism sector, severely hurt by the Chinese retaliation against the installation here of the U.S. missile shield called the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, at a symposium hosted by Rep. Jeon Hyun-hee전현희 of the ruling Democratic Party더불어민주당.

Panelists discuss ways to revive medical tourism industry during a symposium held at the National Assembly Monday.

Korea’s medical tourism industry had steadily grown since 2013 but turned downward last year amid the controversy over THAAD. Ahn called for the government to take responsibility and establish countermeasures to make up for the losses inflicted on domestic medical institutions.

Ahn noted the healthcare industry had been a major economic player and job creator, citing large hospitals had hired Chinese translators and overseas marketers, invested in advertisements and established foreign branches to keep up with the international demand for local medical services.

Ahn added that the rise of medical tourism also helped related industries, such as hotels, restaurants, and medical goods, make profits since tourists purchased other products and services during their stay.

“The medical industry in this regard was ‘totally unprepared’ for the aftereffects of THAAD, witnessing a drastic fall in patient numbers despite having invested heavily in various areas to accommodate foreign patients,” Ahn said, “Now hospitals are to downsizing rapidly, leading to job and revenue losses and remaining unable to cover the costs of previous investment.”

He urged the government to take action, suggesting several methods starting with the more efficient marketing of Korean healthcare industry by mobilizing Korean stars and celebrities. Ahn also cited speeding up of visa approval process and providing follow-up care in the patient’s home country through partnering with hospitals in foreign countries.

Professor Jin Ki-nam진기남 of Yonsei University expressed more optimistic views, saying “Expanding the Chinese market should not be the only focus.” Jin noted undue reliance on Chinese patients could make the domestic industry vulnerable and called for the government to differentiate services, diversify target countries and increase professionalism. Jin pointed out that the fall in the number of Chinese patients should not necessarily be “a matter of total despair,” but rather an opportunity to recuperate and strengthen weaknesses in the Korean health care industry.

Jin also noted that the Korean government had poured a large sum of money into ineffective advertising, which not only contributed to the stagnation of the medical industry but also to the creation of a weak global brand. Jin called for hospitals and government to market their brand more creatively from the standpoint of foreign countries. He emphasized the importance of tailoring advertisements to each country after extensive and thorough market research.

Baek Hyun-gi백현기, director of the Healthcare Business Division at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, also stressed the need to increase medical safety and diversify strategies in attracting foreign patients, optimistically noting that this is an “opportunity to bring our healthcare industry to maturity.”

“Even though we suffered some losses after THAAD, it was not all negative; in fact, a survey revealed two out of the top five hospitals saw a rise in the number of foreign patients.”

Source: Korea Brand Hospital Association


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